A Draft of “On Loss Before Anyone Else Dies”

I had had the beginnings of a memoir about loss swirling around in my mind for the last two years. I knew what I would write about - I knew the facts. I knew some of what I perceived to be the meaning (or lack thereof) to it all. I knew the sort of melancholy sound it all had. The listlessness of it. The lack of clarity about any of it that I had already decided the process of writing it all down would have. I had enough material to say something significant that also said nothing at all. I had enough material.

You see, I had lost two of my best friends already. One to the death of her father when we were 18. And the other to the death of her husband when she was just 45. After their deaths, my best friends became different people. In both cases, afterwards we spent a lot of time not saying anything. Driving around. Sitting on the beach. They didn’t have to interact with anything but their thoughts, but also didn’t have to be alone. They could say the horrible things they were thinking. I could just be with them to listen.

The men they lost... they were once in a lifetime people. The don’t get two of them type of people. The type you grieve over for more than half your life before you realize you’re still alive.

Meghan had lost a father to cancer. We knew it was coming. They knew for about three years prior to his death at home surrounded by his family. They knew it had all gone wrong by the time she turned 15.

Jill had lost her husband to a cardiac event at 3 in the morning when he was 45. He had had no signs. He had been completely healthy two weeks before at his annual physical. When she called me after the ambulance had taken him she told me she was scared to go – that it would be real. That he would be dead. That there would be no chance. That it would be real. When I got there thirty minutes later, she moved in slow motion. I sped us to the hospital. And then we waited. We waited for it to be real. We waited for something else to be real.

When Jill died, Meghan asked what she could do. I said I didn’t know. And then, two days later, I asked if she could drive me around listening to a movie soundtrack we used to tie so much meaning to when we were teenagers and drinking coffee. Not saying anything. After that drive, as we sat in my garden, she told me it took her about fifteen years to get back to the person she used to be before her father died. She was 18 when it happened and 33 when the fog of the loss became something else. We were 41 when Jill died.

I am waiting for something else to be real.

The third time I lost my best friend, I gained her two children. My children lost the mother they once knew.

I have a small group of very close childhood friends. I could tell each of them anything - no matter how embarrassing or ridiculous or big or small. They know me better than siblings know each other - all the stories, all the successes, all the heartache. All the emotion behind it. The best and worst of it. Who we were way back when and how that translates to the woman waiting for her mammogram to begin. They were there when most of it happened or at least for the lead up and the aftermath.

I met Jill just as I turned 30. We met at a time in our lives when we were both figuring out something that was largely beyond those early formative years. About motherhood. About womanhood. About relationships. About self. About aging. About the gnawing feeling that there was a world we could create and then live in.

And then, we did. We created a little weird world for ourselves and our kids to live in. We cultivated a group of like-minded neighbors. We hung out on the playground with a handful of others, kids of all ages. We stayed out until the fireflies came out and then gave the kids all little lights to keep staying out late. We threw epic family-friendly parties every holiday. We coordinated huge group costumes amongst the adults. We grew tomatoes. We raised really cool kids together.

We went through ups and downs in our own relationships. She with her husband. Me with my second husband (and then ex-husband and then boyfriend and then live-in boyfriend, and then back and forth for a while). He and I were going to make a real go of it and moved in together five years ago. It would be in a different town. I announced this to my friends at a wine night. “What does Jill think about this?” was always their first response – to the point where one of my childhood friends asked, “What do you mean? What does that matter?”

Most of my childhood friends were living very different lives over an hour away. Most did not have kids. Most were married or thoroughly coupled up. Most just weren’t there for the majority of the everyday living that, especially when you have young kids, is such a piece of who you become in your 30s. And I didn’t see them so much in those years. The utter chaos that life with small children is was experienced by those around us. We survived it because of each other.

And I survived it because I had this person. And she had me. And she got me in a way that I needed. And, I think, I for her.

About a year ago, I had told her that I was looking through old photos of the years that we lived in the same town. I told her I regretted leaving. I told her I didn’t know why I would do that. That, given that at that moment I wasn’t even with the man I had left to be with, it wasn’t worth it. She told me that it was life. That we make the decisions we make. That in a few short years after her youngest graduated she was going to move out by me anyway so it didn’t matter.

If I had lived closer, she wouldn’t be dead.

If I hadn’t left, she wouldn’t be dead.

If I had forced her to move out by me sooner, she wouldn’t be dead.

 If she weren’t dead, I would be able to talk to someone about how unreal it is that she is dead.

If she weren’t dead, I would be able to talk to someone about how I haven’t caught my breath since I walked into the ER and saw her hooked up to machines, her face having seizures, her arms swelling up.

If she weren’t dead, I could tell her I was sitting in my garden writing this, all ugly crying, and about to get eaten by a squirrel who is way too close for comfort.

If she weren’t dead, we would then go and get fries and sit on the beach.

She would tell me, “Dude, that was crazy.” She would tell me, “I can’t believe I died.”

Dude... that WAS crazy... I can’t believe you died.

After Craig died, I sent her two stories I had written after Meghan’s dad died. She told me couldn’t bring herself to read them. But that she kept them. They are still in her inbox on the phone of hers that I now have. That I now have because she died.

Sitting There

Sitting there meant that she was dead. They wouldn’t make me guardian if she weren’t dead. And she was, to be sure, dead. 

I had seen her ashes spread out. That had maybe been the moment. The can’t-put-it-back-in-the-bag moment. Can’t put her back in the bag moment. Can’t make her have called me the day before moment. Can’t have been there more moment. Can’t have prevented it moment. 

On a possibly related note, I almost got hit by a bus today on the way to surrogate’s court. On the the way to get fingerprinted to become her daughter’s guardian. On the way to get fingerprinted to become her parentless daughter’s guardian because she was dead. There is a series of yield and turns in front of the courthouses. I just didn’t think to follow the second yield. I slammed on the brakes before the bus passed in front of me, the driver seemingly unphased by this. I was phased by this. Not just because she was dead, but because the irony would have been too much. It would have been the sort of writers’ room decision that suggests a new team of writers for a new season. 

When the court officer asked me for my documents, I handed him my license and social security card. He asked for a second form of government issued ID. I asked him for an example of another form of photo ID if I didn’t have a passport. Mine was expired about a decade. He said a passport would be great. I pointed out again that I did not have one. I handed him a university ID card. I thought about making a comment about not knowing who I am these days either. I didn’t. I didn’t say it. I didn’t know how I was supposed to prove that either. 

The fingerprint reader kept asking me to redo the fingerprint. It wasn’t dark enough and then it was too dark and then it just didn’t match. And I thought of the irony there, too. I wanted to make a joke about how obvious it is that I have never been arrested because I would be better at this if I had been. But the bus incident had left me off kilter. The asking of a second photo of ID had left me off kilter. 

The her being dead thing had left me off kilter. 

Afterwards, he said I was done and I made a joke about there being no confetti or receipt or anything. Then when I got into my car I started crying. 

When I got home I began to organize my filing cabinet. I had her files still in bags and accordion folders. I had been meaning to separate what was going to the money-guy for his files and what I needed for her parentless daughter for a while. What I needed as her guardian. (Because she was dead). 

I shredded three garbage bags’ worth of papers I had no use for anymore. Paid bills and old leases. My adult son’s working papers from five years ago. I made her parentless daughter a file folder. School papers and this year’s physical. Her bank account and social security paperwork. The final paperwork for the death benefits. Because she was dead. 

Home office shredders should come with a therapeutic activity rating. If the shredding is easy, with minimal clean up efforts - it gets a high rating. Shredding with that kind of shredder provides some cathartic experience. Some level of progress. Three bags of shredded past and adulthood later and I felt no catharsis. I felt no sense of calm. Not even the lack of papers on my desk or extra room in the filing cabinet provided this. Nor the vacuuming up of the tiny shredded pieces that fell out of the container in heaps as I emptied it multiple times. 

It perhaps wasn’t the shredder that was the issue. I get that. It was far more likely the whole her being dead thing. It was, afterall, a theme for the day. Month. Last 8 months. 

Sitting here, with her stuff organized in folders and stored neatly in boxes, meant that she was dead. I wouldn't have her stuff if she weren’t dead. I wouldn’t have her daughter if she weren’t dead. 

And she was, to be sure, dead. 


To be sure, she is dead. 


When I got the call, I had just put the bag with three tacos I got for myself that day on the counter. It was a Tuesday. It was just after or around 5pm. My youngest was at a football practice. My eldest was probably at work. I had had my water tank looked at that afternoon and the oil burner cleaned. I had rebuilt with wood the inside of a plastic and metal shelf that had collapsed that held extra clothes in the basement. I had taken a photo of my dog to make into a pet pillow for my eldest to take with him to his first year at college. I had ordered it.

When I got the call I shoved the huge bag (way too large for just three tacos and a quesadilla for my youngest I am now realizing it included) into the fridge. I threw clothes into a canvas bag. I think I threw in makeup remover and make up and deodorant. The neighbor’s voice sounded serious. I didn’t think I would be back that night. If I would be, it was just a bag. 

When I walked out of the front door, I went straight to my car. I had been angry at my partner for a number of weeks about various things. So when I walked out the door and he was in his work car finishing a call, I didn’t acknowledge him. I think I texted that she was in the hospital and I was on my way there. 

When I called her mom, she already knew. She was looking at flights. I’d update her when I got to the hospital. We decided to tell them I was her sister — her son’s aunt— so that they would let me in. I texted him and let him know to mention that his aunt was on her way. He asked if they would believe that. I said yes. He said ok. 

When I called the hospital the doctor said that since I was on my way, I should just drive safely and that we would talk when I got there. I had been to the hospital before. She was there a year before with a panic attack and, of course, I had been there when her husband died two and a half years earlier. That map of the trauma of the place was seared into my mind. And I  am really good with directions. Always afraid I would get lost or left behind as a kid, I remember how to get places after just one visit. 

When I called her mother back from the car, I asked her to send me photos of the insurance cards. To send me any medication information she had. To get on a flight. She was still looking. I think I called the neighbor back again. 

When I walked in, she was hooked up to what seemed like a cyborg level of wires. Her face was having seizures. Her jaw was clamped down onto the breathing tube. Her 18 year old autistic son who had been driven there in a police car was standing next to her. I said hey. He said hey. 

When I touched her hand, it felt swollen. 

Whomever I was before that moment, I have ceased being. 

When, almost four months after that call, I was putting away groceries in that same refrigerator, I let out a wail. I keeled over. 

And when no portal to bring me back to that moment and change the timeline appeared… like the show I had binge-watched with my son suggested there would be— I finished putting away the groceries and went back to being. To existing.

Love Story (or, Boy Meets Girl)

Love Story

There’s this story you should know. The simplified version goes like this.

Boy meets girl. 

Boy falls in love with girl. 

Friend takes photo of boy and girl on a couch that night looking very much like teenagers in the 90s. 

Girl tells mother on the night they meet that she just met the boy she is going to marry.

Boy marries girl. In the rain. 

Girl’s mother tells boy that if he breaks her heart, she’ll kill him. This moment gets photographed. 

Boy writes long love letters to girl. 

Boy and girl buy a home and fill it with two children, a million toys, and a cat. 

Boy and girl beam at sight of each other. 

Boys and girl make up nicknames for each other.

Boy and girl roll eyes at each other.

Boy and girl cry together.

Boy and girl yell.

Boy and girl laugh. 

Boy and girl love.

Boy and girl repeat these things over and over in what makes up a happy life. 

Boy moves to her side of the bed because his side was all sweaty.

Girl grunts and rolls her eyes at being told this.

Boy begins to have a heart attack. 

Girl attempts to save him. 

Boy is rushed to the hospital. 

Boy dies. 

Girl and broken heart go home.

Girl tells the children. 

Girl goes on, but leaves a boy sized part of her heart buried in a cemetery twenty minutes away. 

Girl paints rocks.

Girl cries.

Girl gets tattoos.

Girl attempts to just survive somehow.

Girl attempts to just breathe. 

Girl puts crying and laughter and yelling and life on repeat mode with the two children. 

Girl sometimes just stares. 

Girl gets a second cat. 

Girl buys a lot of cat toys. 

Girl cries. 

Girl gets a cold. 

Girl can’t breathe. 

Girl has heart attack.

Girl’s children attempt to save her.

Girl is rushed to the hospital. 

Girl dies. 

Boy meets girl. 

(Happy Birthday, Craig.)

Nothing, But the Memory (a novel) (draft)

Chapter 1: Additional Appliances

Alex found that she couldn’t sleep past 7 AM anymore. There were many things she blamed for this new phenomenon: that she had so much to drink (almost every night) so close to falling asleep the night before, the incessant stomping from apartment end to apartment end without end by the new millennial couple upstairs, her twelve year old son’s habit of clearing his throat a million times (a nervous tic he developed years before) and his habit of waking up early, the immediate list of things to do or make sure the kids did or whether or not she or Ford had put the laundry in the dryer last night and was it wrinkled already and did they ever get breakfast food for the boys and did Harrison get his school snack ready last night and did she have to drive Ollie to band practice that morning and did the phone charger actually work and did she need to pack a lunch or could she find enough money in quarters to buy a crappy salad in between the two of three university jobs she had that day and if not, what did they even have that could be brought for lunch and maybe the bag of pretzels and old granola bars in her office at job one would be enough for the day as long as she could just grab a soda to get her through or maybe there was a meeting at job one today where food would be served (if it were bagels, she should grab a few so that the boys could have breakfast for the next day, but they really should go grocery shopping so that they had food for when Sophie was here next week for her winter break), did Ford ever get the unaccompanied minor paperwork back from Sophie’s mom, they only have a week until she flies to New York, she wasn’t entirely sure that all of the presents from Amazon had come yet and she definitely didn’t think her Secret Santa sibling gift had arrived yet. And she wondered which, in the heap of clothes on the chair in their bedroom, she hadn’t worn that week. Where were those thicker gaucho pants? 

Her mind wasn’t always like this. She used to write out a list every week of things to buy, things to do, and things to try. Food, clothes, detergent, beer (?). Ollie daycare drop off, work, gym, school, clean out car, paint. New Chinese place on Main, summer volleyball registration. Years earlier, while on a date with a child-less, middle-aged co-worker, he had told her that he understood that her life was complicated. “It isn’t complicated, it is just time-consuming,” she had replied. In the decade since, she told nearly everyone that story. It worked best on either first dates with men with their own kids or with moms. 

To clarify, Ford was her ex-husband. And current live-in boyfriend. Live-with boyfriend? Significant other? Housemate with shared child? They were never quite sure. 

But what had really changed in the ten years since those paper list making days? The separation from first husband, dating, rekindling, separation, dating while also rekindling, masters degree, separation, the unexpected pregnancy with the new boyfriend, move, divorce from first husband, rent-an-ordained person afternoon marriage to second husband, birth (the next day), gaining a step-daughter, move, move, separation, rekindling, separation, doctorate attempt starting, divorce papers, move, article publishing, advisory board volunteering, rekindling, book club joining, doctoral attempt ending, work travel, move, adding two additional jobs, more work travel, and now having a washer/dryer and dishwasher in the house. She had never had a dishwasher at any point in her adult life. The eczema on her right hand stopped flaring up from doing the dishes by hand. (Though Ford thinks this excuse is bullshit). It was a major talking point for her when people came over to see the new house they rented. Maybe not for those she told it to, but it as one of the first things one sees when entering the kitchen. 

It must be the appliances. It truly does change everything, she thought. For one thing, that eczema had embarrassed her for as long as she could remember. For years she blamed this on the dishwashing soap – trying everything from gloves to a sponge on a stick to making Ollie do the dishes. The eczema, she told people, started when she was about ten years old and her parents gave her a ring for some religious milestone. It immediately made her skin begin to itch and never went away – every year it came back. Proof, she added, that she was allergic to religion. Depending on her audience, she would sometimes add more information about how Ollie did the dishes, usually without complaint. How she and her brothers always had. Their father would wake them up at 4 AM if he woke up for work and a dish was done wrong. (This from a man who could not put up a piece of molding straight anywhere in the house, she often added). Ollie even did his own laundry, like they had. She could continue, but usually didn’t that her mother had been so frustrated by inside out clothes when Alex was about 7 years old, that she made each of the four children do their own from then on. 

Most of what she shared with others was all very scripted. With monotone sarcasm and accents on all of the right places to suggest, sometimes inaccurately, insight and distance.  

Last week, Ford told her she should get pills for anxiety. She thought of the story about being in the car with her parents when she was in high school, on the way from New York to Maryland to see her eldest brother. The sign read, “Happy Holly’s” and her mother exclaimed, “That’s where I can get my happy pills.” Ford had heard the story a handful of times already. She wondered if she had ever told him about the confusion she felt as a child over the differences between lithium and Prozac and Midol. Her parents’ psychiatrist (or maybe was he just a therapist, she wondered) had diagnosed her mother as clinically depressed – something her mother would come to tell everyone in the family and they would then reference whenever a conversation about her mother’s response to anything would come up. But Alex wasn’t sure which part of that additional story would matter enough to tell Ford. What additional information did it offer? That she didn’t know the difference between Midol for menstrual cramps and Prozac for depression? Or that her mother enthusiastically spoke about her own mental health as both a joke and an alibi?  

Most of Alex’s internal dialogue was framed like a writing instructor session. This was a point that she liked to make along with a story about her mother stopping the car at the corner by their house when Alex was ten, turning around and yelling, “Alexandra, from now on I want you to think for ten seconds before you ever say anything!” She takes that story out when people mention how quiet she is, too. Both suggesting that it was obviously a result of that vital moment in her childhood and deflecting that it was a result of anything else. 

But, after Ford said she should get pills for anxiety, she decided to skip the tangent and dryly responded, “For what, honey? What do I have to be anxious about?” At the time, she was organizing places to put the new quesadilla maker she got for Christmas and the aging waffle maker her ex-mother-in-law/current boyfriend’s mother left at their house the day before. She wasn’t sure if it was supposed to stay at their house or if Robin had been too drunk and full of bags to carry to take it home with her. 

Three weeks earlier, Robin and Alex had been in the car on the way back from moving the last of the items she was keeping from her childhood home. The house was being sold and it would let Robin finally get out from under the house. She was visibly upset as they drove away. 

“Are you okay?” Alex had asked.

“I just am feeling a little emotional. I have to get rid of all of my stuff.”

Alex was already writing the follow-up email in her head. In it, she would tell Robin about how she understood what it was like to lose a home. That losing her own grandmother’s house in the hurricane a few years ago had felt like they lost a family member. That the house had held not only all of these memories, but had been a safe haven for so many people. That it was not just filled with memories, but it was filled with life. That she remembers digging through the sand under the house to find the small trinkets from her grandmother’s life that had such meaning for others. All the little items that had been in the curio cabinet behind the enormous spinning chairs in the small kitchen with a dining room table too big for such a small kitchen. The collection of elephants and cups and small frog. The beer steins and top of the weird cookie jar. All of these small item seemed to mean so much. And so Alex understood how it felt to feel like she was losing everything. And that if she still wanted the dressers and the hutch and anything else from the house – they should get it before it was too late. To ignore the complaints of her son who did not understand the significance and that they would get whatever she wanted to get. And how her own grandmother, who was never into material things, had lit up when Alex brought the recovered items to her afterwards. How, even after her death two years later, the items are not “just stuff.” 

Robin’s phone rang. It was her middle son, Cameron. She hesitated to pick it up, but then did. She put it on speaker phone as they drove in traffic. She did not mention anyone else being in the car with her. Alex was not entirely sure if Cameron knew that she and Ford had been back together for about four and a half years and had just moved in together six months earlier. So she stayed silent for the rest of the twenty-minute drive home while Robin talked to him on speaker phone – mostly about his life, taxes (Robin had worked for the IRS), his dogs, his job, the girl he was seeing for the fourth time who he was sure was “afraid” to talk to him. 

Alex made note of the differences between how he spoke to her on the phone and how Ford spoke to her. Ford often spoke very directly to his mother – especially in recent weeks when she needed their help to move furniture. He was the only son that lived close. He had relied on her help a lot when he and Alex split up – each time. They had lived in her house for about 2 years when Harrison was first born. Things had gotten complicated and tense after that and Alex and Robin had not spoken in about four years before Alex and Ford moved to the new house in the same town Robin’s new apartment was in. The reunion sat uneasy with Ford. Robin would tell her stories and drop hints of information, intentional or not about Ford and his choices. And Alex would work to stay neutral and not listen too much to the details about finances and things. They weren’t married anymore and she did not want to know. She just needed him to pay half the rent and half the bills on-time every month. 

She desperately wanted what he had lied to her about his finances back then to be completely true now. 

As Cameron talked, Alex tried to decide which parts of the story she should relay to Ford. Cameron was sort of an elusive mystery to them both. He had just moved to Rhode Island for a new job, but it was unclear what he did or why he had left his six figure job in New York the year before. Cameron and Ford had never gotten along and in drunk moments as an adult, Cameron would call or text Ford to try to patch the divide. He would try to prompt deep conversations about life from a man whom he had never really known. 

As Cameron talked, it also occurred to Alex that she had never had a conversation like that one. Her family didn’t just call to chat. At least she had never. Two of her brothers would call their grandmothers on a weekly scheduled basis and would call their parents, but the whole idea of keeping in touch that way bothered Alex in a way she could not explain to others. It made her blood boil uncomfortably. It was like an anxiety attack wrapped in clammy hands. She hated it. 

She decided on a space for the waffler maker on the counter, but by the back door. It was an ambiguous enough “staying or going” area for the undecided purpose of it still being there. Right above the dishwasher. 

“We forgot to get dishwasher soap when we went out,” Alex said. 

“Hm. Maybe we should make a list?” Ford responded, sarcastically. 

Chapter 2: Home & Careers

Alex had started working at Handle University when she was just 22. She had been married about 2 and a half years, had a six month old at home, and had just finished her BA in English. She would only be there in the secretary job for a year while she finished her MS to become a Social Studies teacher. She had only meant to stay a year. This is the story she told people every time they asked how long she had been with the university. It had been 12 and a half years. 

The last 11 of these years had been spent in her current position – housed within the college of liberal arts and sciences, overseen (but not really) by the psychology department, the professional psychology program of about 100 students, 8 core faculty, and 1 other staff member. “I am the non-psychologist in the room,” was how she told this story when people asked what she did. “Everything a room full of academics and psychologists cannot figure out how to.” 

She wasn’t sure when she started to explain her life in taglines, but it had become clear that the taglines made people laugh. Indeed, in an environment where the audience of students cycled through every year – the taglines played brand new every year. She largely had little actual meaningful interaction with most of the students. She knew their personal essays, undergraduate grades, standardized test scores, and what their three recommenders had said about them, but other than that – most of her knowledge about the 100 students walking by her office every week was secondhand from student review meetings. Who was open about their backgrounds, who was quiet, who slept in class, who had a complicated relationship with their mother or husband or an illness, and who obviously (according to 8 psychologists) needed to modify their medication. She would sometimes know when they were having hard financial times or if they still had a helicopter parent at the age of 26. It was a strange, fringe position that mostly allowed the surface-level tagline explanation of life work. The taglines seemed to keep a comfortable distance without seeming intentional. This got easier as she got older and the incoming student body tended to always be about those in their early- to mid-twenties. 

She had written program-wide memos for years, but they were always signed by the director- not her. More distancing. Two times she had written to the program’s students and faculty directly. The first after someone had tried to commit suicide in the woods behind their building and she and two students had gone into the woods to find her and called the police – after which the 100 would-be psychologist students wanted to know more, do more. “This is not our patient,” she wrote in part of the long email. The other time was after the second student in a six-month period had suddenly died. The first in an apartment fire and the second from a virus that attacked his heart. “He was one of those students that drove you crazy…” it went. She simplified the events and the pain, confusion, and lingering nature of the events. After both, multiple students wrote her, often, simply, “Thank you for this.” 

In reality, she had done everything she could to search for more information on the girl in the woods. She had not died. It had appeared to be a cry for help and attention in a series of other attempts just like it. She had likely been in at least one of the same education classes Alex had been in years before. She never looked up the girl’s transcripts in the system. She had never seen the girl that day in the woods – just heard her voice yelling. The ambulance took her away from the other side of the woods and thicket of thorns. She took every measure to avoid counting the degrees of separation between them. And it was one story she did not tell. The story she tells is about realizing that she was “the adult in the room” with a building full of students who looked to her. “I had looked out the window and saw Alex there,” one of the students said, “but then I realized, wait if she’s there it must be serious.” She tells that part of the story now too. 

People are typically too freaked out by the talk of suicide to continue the conversation. They take the taglines and move on to talk about something else – the broken slide at the playground, the cupcakes they need to make, the new movie coming out, next month’s book club choice. They will do anything to avoid talking about mental health. Alex lived in the middle of the outside world where no one really talks about anything that cannot be put into a meme and shared and the world of training in psychology and the “How-Are-You-Feeling-People” who talk about horrible things like others talk about ice cream flavor preferences. 

She hadn’t told Ford any of this. She hadn’t shared with him what she had written. On the week the first student died, Ford and Alex’s old neighbor died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. She left behind a husband and three teenage girls. The girls had babysat their kids for years. Ford and Alex had always joked about hearing the life of the family upstairs. They heard the arguments, the laughter. They heard when the husband and wife had sex. They joked about how happy they always both seemed the next morning. It was, Alex told a friend, a lot of death in one week. 

After Alex had drank an entire bottle of wine and written out a heartfelt tribute for Facebook about the mother, Ford asked if she was ok, “because you just drank that entire bottle in three hours…” That was the extent of his asking. And that was the end of her telling him. She hadn’t wanted to be sad about his response. So she just avoided it all together. 

In the summer that set off her thirteenth year with the university, she began working part-time for a nearby state school. It was the first time she went on an interview and did not mention that she had children. It was the first time she got the position. She has been telling that story ever since.

She would be working as a writing and learning coach. It would include one-on-one tutoring session with students, as well as pre-set workshops on writing and citation and academic papers. The first day she started, she had no students. She sat in a huge conference room in an aging building on the side property of a horse ranch and flipped through the slides she had been given. Most of the rest of the summer went like that. For four hours every week, she would sit in the office of the director (who was never there) and read or watch online Yale courses. She had four students all summer. 

It was the first time in over a decade when she did not run things. She had no idea whose offices were on the second floor. Until her first appointment, the fourth week of being there, she had no idea there was a computer lab. It was the last week of the summer before she realized there was a snack machine in the building. It was a strange experience to not know the ins and outs of the entire building. But, for Alex, it was also an opportunity to not have to be anyone to those she worked with and rarely saw. 

Months later she got a third position at another state college – this one in an actual writing center with a constant flow of student appointments and a larger professional and student staff. She had the strange experience of being around undergraduate students for the first time in a decade. The students she worked with had absolutely no interest in asking her any questions, content on telling their own stories over and over again. When she stopped one mid-story to ask a question, it seemed as though she was thrown totally off by the interruption, pulling from her other story lists in order to get back to the first. She wasn’t sure if this was how college kids interacted with others or if it was how they interacted with adults. 

An adult. That was what she was now to a lot of people in her day. It offered anonymity and protection, except for that sharp ping of loneliness. 

It would be four months into the new position before her director knew she had kids, when she had to ask to switch shifts with someone because Ollie had just received a High Honor Roll notice and there would be a ceremony that she should attend. 

At first it wasn’t intentional to not mention her family. And then it was. She wondered what the non-disclosure might make others assume about her. Grays showing. Sometimes in jeans, sometimes in professional clothes. No ring. She began to think through all of the assumptions she had made about them. On the first night of working alone with one of the student workers, there was a fire drill. The whole library was evacuated. While sitting outside on a wall with her, Alex asked, “So what’s your major?” 

The student giggled at the joke and then went on and on about being an art major and wanting to be able to do something with it on graduation and how she found that doing digital art was so much easier than taking the time to actually draw the hand or face or whatever it was. 

Alex knew she was from upstate New York, so she asked her about the state summer school for the arts. She hadn’t heard about it. Alex chimed in that she had participated in the program as a teenager – a month away at Caze College taking college-level art classes. The student quickly moved on in the conversation.

And that’s how the rest of the semester went. Alex mostly listening to the student every Monday night, being asked one or two questions the whole semester. It was a fascinating role reversal from her students at Handle University who asked questions all the time, sometimes to be polite and seemingly out of genuine interest. 

Three nights a week, at a minimum, she would get home late that semester. It was the first time in their 9 years of being together that she had been home later than Ford. Her director pointed out the irony of moving in with Ford and then almost immediately getting two more jobs that kept her out of the house. “Well…” was her only reply. 

And she had multiple story pathways for this line too. She could tell about Ford coaching when she was pregnant and after Harrison was born- how much time he spent driving there and back for so little money. She could talk about missing Ollie’s football games – something her own mother never did when Alex and her brothers were young. She only ever missed one game in Alex’s entire life. She could talk about how as a child she would watch as her parents shared the stories about their days at work over the dinner table with one another. Her mother’s eyes would glaze over and her father would be sure to nod his head enough. And neither was really listening. 

She thought about that last part a lot as she came home late each night. Ford did not ask and she did not really offer up any stories. For the first time in a long time, she was having a new experience at work, unlike any others she had been involved with… and yet, she said nothing. She had heard for years her work friends talk about working with students. She had read a plethora of articles and books about ‘best practices’ and how to engage students in the learning process. She wrote student evaluations and course and program assessments – calculating the rate at which each and as a group they met their goals. And yet this was somehow distant from all of that. This wasn’t personal. And she loved every minute of it – to the point of not saying a word about it. She did not want him to destroy it for her. 

Chapter X: Books

“Doesn’t she remind you of that comedian?”

“Yes! Oh my god, yes!”

“Who?” Alex asked,

“Kim C.”

“I have never heard of her.”

This exchange happened three more times before Alex looked up the comedian. She did look like her. “If she gained about a hundred pounds and was stung by a hundred bees,” added Alex. She opened a Twitter account to follow the comedian, and a few others. Kim C liked on tweet, about trying to decide whether she needed to turn down the audio of her comedy show while at work, or if the liberal arts students would be okay with it, with accompanying photo of the unchecked playlist. 

She started going to see comedy shows on a more usual basis than she went to see anything. “I grew up with comedy, but only recently got back into it,” she would tell friends. It would be another year before she started listening to comedian’s books on audio and tell everyone she knew that they should do so too. 

And the stories connected – the rainy day that she walked around the inside track on-campus and listened to the end of Amy Poehler’s and the beginning of Tina Fey’s books. First the college basketball team was practicing down in the gym below the track that circled the second floor behind the stands. Alex made a mental note to joke later about the benefits of walking indoors at a DII school. About an hour later, while she was laughing out loud at the audiobooks, the entire first string football team came up onto the track to run laps and do a cheetah-like crawl. She made yet another mental note to talk about her moment as a cougar, giggling away and turning red at what Tina Fey was saying, not by the scantily clad, sweaty 18-22 year old men surrounding her. And just, the story continues, when she thought it was over, the second string came into the gym and it started all over again. 

It would be about a year before she realized that comedians’ books were really self-help books in narrative form, with quirky stories and funnier lines. She had truly come full circle, she thought. She had melded the self-help library of her mother’s with the George Carlin-esque comedy dialogue of her father. All coming to her through uncomfortable ear buds worn while tracking her steps and elevated heart rate with her FitBit. She hadn’t yet told anyone about this revelation. Instead she downloaded four more books by a recovering alcoholic actress/comedian to listen to over the winter break. 

As they told their stories, of fame and of personal experiences, Alex began to feel a closer connection to them all. She felt like she understood their work so much better than those who had not read (or listened to) these books. This topic, the strangeness of fans believing that there is some sort of deep connection between fan and celebrity, of course came up in multiple chapters in each book. 

I look so much like Kim C though, Alex thought, she would obviously recognize that if we ever met. She kept this though all the way up to the day before the book signing that Kim C canceled due to illness. The ridiculousness of this did not escape Alex. 

She deleted her Twitter account and watched some old comedy shows from the 90s. Jokes about being a woman, parenting, and clothing – all of these, Alex thought, could have saved her mother hundreds of dollars in self-help books. 

Chapter X: Timelines

It was over dinner with couscous that Alex realized her almost thirteen year old son had no idea when she and his father split up. Had she forgotten to mention that they weren’t always apart? Did he not put the pieces together? Did she talk about those years of her life so little that he didn’t have any pieces to put together? 

She was his age when her grandmother remarried after her grandfather died a few years earlier. The man that would become her step-grandfather had been the man that she called “Uncle John” for her entire life. He and his wife had been life-time long friends with Alex’s grandparents. It never occurred to the parents involved to explain to their children that they were not, in fact, actually aunts and uncles. Her brother came up with the name “Gruncle John” and everyone just went with it. It wasn’t until years later that it occurred to Alex what that all meant. And she was significantly older at that point than her 12 year old son. 

Admittedly, she thought, the kids did likely not have a clear sense of who went with who when and where and why it ended. Ollie was 11 years old before she realized that his complete lack of any religious training meant that he had no idea what his Social Studies teacher was talking about through some of the unit on Roman history. 

“There was no hot water unless they turned the heater on when we were there.”

“Wait, you were there?” Ollie asked.

“Of course – when you were about seven months old we went for Ramadan for two weeks,” Alex answered. 

“Oh,” Ollie replied quizzically. 

It was when she was Ollie’s age that her father moved out for the first of three times. She had known the timeline of her parent’s history together succinctly. She had known one other kid in school whose parents had visible issues, namely a non-existent father. A few years later that would all change, but for that moment in her young life, she felt that she had this sort of story all to her own. It never crushed her that her parents split up. It sort of always made sense. It would be years later that she would find out that she did not have the whole of her parents’ timeline. There was a whole history she knew nothing about. What she knew was likely the blip of human existence that science teachers show kids by laying out a hundred foot piece of skinny paper on the hallway in school to show how vastly insignificant in the earth’s history humans are. 

Alex wasn’t sure if the six years she had spent with Ollie’s father, her first ex-husband, had been a blimp or if it had been a significant section of her timeline. She had been 19 when they met, he was 28. Ollie’s confusion likely laid in how significantly different his parents were from one another – he could not possibly imagine them living together. Alex, of course, felt the same way. She forgot sometimes who the man picking Ollie up once a week had been to her. 

When they first met, in the restaurant where they worked, she had been mostly attracted to his eyes. Now, when they had to be in close enough proximity to one another for her to see his eyes, she only saw anxiety and a tinge of anger and resentment. She saw spinning – a feature of his that had made her consistently anxious and unhappy a decade ago. They physically did not fit. She was three inches taller than him and preferred to wear heeled boots. She tended to go for comfortable and he for formal clothes. He tended to want to be out talking to new people and she had always preferred to people watch. He was a self-taught good cook who never had condiments on anything and she grew up in a house that put ketchup on filet mignon and cinnamon sugar on rice. She couldn’t see how they were ever together any more than her son, who had been a toddler when they split, could. 

Alex saved the letters and cards and photos from those years in a box. When she did so in the first organizing of photos, she told herself that she was saving them for when Ollie was older. That he, like all kids, would want to see photos of when his parents were younger. These photos, of course, don’t hold the stories. They are printed photos – before online albums were really a thing. Missing is the caption about how Alex told dirty jokes in an attempt to make him really smile. About how they kept their relationship quiet at work for almost a year. About how she would make fun of his stubby fingers. About how he would come cheer her on at every college volleyball game. About him wanting her to brush her hair before they went out for Christmas to her parents’ house. About how scared he was to meet her parents for the first time. About how her father told him, “You know she’s not the easiest person” when he asked his permission to marry her. About her pushing him to go back to school. About how he held her when she cried when she didn’t get a teaching fellowship. About her finding out he was already married and not freaking out. About when they argued about money. About when they went out to dinner and her old best friend was their waitress and he treated her like no one. About when he opened the engagement ring box and it lit up so she ducked because it looked like water being splashed out of the box. About the time they went to special registration for immigrants. About the time he kissed her in an archway in the city after a romantic dinner and show and she felt absolutely nothing. About the time she cried to her brother on the phone about them. About the time she told him to get the fuck out of her apartment. 

What then, she wondered, is the point of the photos? What timeline would they offer to Ollie? What long-believed timeline would they disrupt for him? 

Alex waited 10 seconds before beginning to say anything back to Ollie. 

“Can I be done?” he asked with an empty dinner plate in front of him. 


Perhaps in an effort to skip over the rough spots or in a simply lackadaisical manner of being, it had not really occurred to Alex or Ford to lay out the timeline of their relationship to their son, Harrison.  

When Harrison asked if Sophie’s (his half-sister) younger sister was his sister too that Alex thought to lay out the family tree. It was really more of a bush. She tried to draw it out like an old fashioned family tree would be: two parents, their kids, their kids’ spouses, their kids, and on and on. But theirs was not so simplified. Alex had had children with two men, each of those two men had had one child with another person. Ford’s first ex-wife had had two more children at that point with two different men, one with one of his own and another with three of his own (and each of those women with three more each). She tried color coding it in Excel by parent-pair. After about an hour, Alex decided to skip the family bush-tree and just tell Harrison that no, Sophie’s other siblings were in no way actually relatives of his. 

The confusion of who was who to the boys had been a source of playground discussion for many years. After about four years in the one town, all of the parents and some of the kids understood who was who and when one kid came and went and, most importantly, when playdates could be scheduled according to that schedule. It was in these years that other families started to take different shapes too. Alex’s best friend’s biological father got remarried to a man. Her high school boyfriend’s wife’s father married a man and went on trips with his ex-wife and her new husband. The world changed and it became less of a tagline. 

But it wasn’t until Harrison came home from his new school in a new town and said, “You know, five kids in my class don’t live with their dads. And two of them have moms who were 15 when they were born.” He said it in a matter-of-fact, encyclopedic reading of the information. 

The degree to which Alex felt immediate relief startled her. She hadn’t fucked up her kid- he saw different homes everywhere. And he was ok with it. 

The following week Harrison, now 8, talked about the bike he had, “at the house dad and I lived in with Grammy.” 

“I lived there too when you had that bike.”

“No, you didn’t – I’m talking about the other house. The red house.”

“I lived in that one too. So did Ollie.”

Harrison continued to argue this point. He was about two when they had moved to a new town and out of the family home of Ford’s mother. He had no memory of the years they all lived together. For him, the family that they were now did not start until six months earlier when they all moved in together again. A new house. A new town. A new start with the same pizza place. 

The story she had on ready to press play for anyone who would listen. She had written a short story about it back when it was, allegedly, all happening. It was all about disclosures. The things we tell others by way not of words, but of the appearance of things. She had thought of it as a tale about the listing of things that we disclose about ourselves and our children without trying to. Every visit to the deli alone with kids. A lack of a ring. Campus parking passes on the car. The name and address on old checks the PTA needs from you. The amount of alcohol you consume on weekends alone visible in the recycling can on Tuesday mornings. 

All of these small disclosures were things Harrison could not care less about. None of them occurred in his worldview. He would not know about them anymore than Alex had known about her parents’ timeline before she was about 12 years old. 

Alex had a story for each of these disclosures. Ford did not eat cold cuts and generally hated anything from a deli. He might try a panini, but they would always disappoint him. He might even try chicken wings from a place, if we had any sort of extra money, but these too would always fail in what it is he was looking for in food. At this point the story could go two ways. It could drift into a story Ford’s mother told about cold sandwiches she made her three boys once and how her youngest refused to eat it because it was cold. He sat there at the table until he fell asleep. 

The story could go another route – Alex could tell all about how any time she cooked something, Ford would lather it in BBQ sauce, no matter what it was. He would do it on anything from chicken to steak to potatoes to chicken parmigiana. What this (could) mean was that anything she worked hard to cook for the first time, would be slathered in BBQ sauce. She once, when they were split up, made a comment online about how nice it was to make something and have the other person (her friend) not lather it in BBQ sauce and Ford’s first ex-wife commented that she totally understood. 

The story Alex could tell could be about Ollie’s inability to eat anything with real taste. He could eat things covered in spicy sauces and various flavors at his father’s house, but he did not even want ketchup or marina sauce or salt or butter on anything at her house. And so he only ever ate plain turkey sandwiches on white bread. Most of the time she would just get a pound of turkey and roll pieces up for him. Anything to avoid taste. Harrison was not much better, but he could be coaxed into some shrimp and BBQ sauce. 

She could take the topic of deli food and talk about bowel movements and roast beef, about hating online ordering and hating talking to people on the phone to order, about the merits of a really good dive deli. Each pathway from the start was like one of those strange family tree-bushes. None of it was linear and everything was connected. 

Except these were all pre-loaded shareable stories – packaged and ready to go. They required, as Alex had learned from working with psychologists, no “active listening skills” to engage with someone else in a conversation about. How often, she wondered, had she ever had a conversation from scratch with anyone she had met in the past fifteen years. During a workshop at work on motivational interviewing, she had to listen for a full minute while her director, a close friend and confidant, talked without prompting and without response from Alex. It took about twenty seconds for her to get emotional. They had spent years together and it took twenty seconds of undivided, un-preplanned responses to connect. How many others had she missed?

Alex connected things and people and blamed the tendency to do so on not being allowed in chorus when she was in fifth grade and instead doing puzzles every Tuesday with Justin, Joey, and Mike in Mr. Sweeney’s class as well as her family’s watching of MacGyver as a child. “You know, in fifth grade when every single kid is in chorus? Well, not me – me and three other kids did puzzles every Tuesday – that’s how badly I sing.” For a year or so she struggled between the word choice of “badly” and “poorly,” but ultimately gave up on making a choice and let whatever came out of her mouth be what it was. Alex could also go on about helping a blind girl play the wooden Xylophone in fifth grade by tapping her shoulder and back in the spots the keys were on. 

Chapter X: Home Improvements

Alex had not been allowed to move the furniture in her room as a child until she was 12. Her mother had told her she had to wait until she was twelve to move the twin bed, wooden dresser, and small desk in her 10 x 12 foot room. This is what she told people when they commented on how often she moved furniture around in her apartments. When she moved into her first place alone with the boys, after sending the divorce papers to Ford an attempting to “start over,” she began building shelves. This gave the activity of moving furniture a whole new level.

Moving furniture, reorganizing photos and paintings it all allowed her mind to wander. It was this strange coping mechanism that she had developed in her twenties. Every time she was about to make a major life decision, she would first spend the weekend repainting the living room or switching her bedroom with Ollie’s. Tasks that would take all day and require sifting through items, deciding what to get rid of or what to put in storage. By the time she moved out of the first apartment she had shared with her first husband before their divorce, all of the IKEA furniture she owned was ruined by being moved too often. 

The degree to which this habit (hobby?) drove her now ex-husbands crazy was always tempered by the fact that the new location of everything looked as though it was always there – always in just the right places. As if it had always been that way. Ollie’s father had said he knew she was home moving things or repainting the entire apartment when he was at work all day and didn’t hear from her all day. He would come home from a twelve hour shift at the restaurant and find his fiancé in bed reading in a different room of a different color. Chapter X: Write & Then Edit This Caption

She realized the sudden release of her breath at this, “Oh good, he’s not thinking of leaving me.”

Chapter X: Other Parents

Chapter X: Potlucks

Chapter X: Public

When she studied history as a graduate student, one of her professors had pointed out that all of the “How-To” pamphlets and magazines of the 18th century pointed not to a public desire for good and wholesome lifestyles, but rather to the evidence that no one lived that way (because if they had, they wouldn’t need to be told how to). 

This Alex thinks of whenever she sees an online challenge about “type in one word that makes you think of me” or “what is one inside joke we have that no one else would know about.” These, she surmises to herself, are proof that real connections aren’t happening in most people’s lives. They search for the memory of those connections they know they had. They make it public. They ask for confirmation and in return give confirmation. This is the public economy. 

It is a sick cycle and we are all willful participants. 

Ford used to tell her about telling his friends about her. How happy he was while doing it. He showed her off. Smart, tall, blonde, employed, with her own place. And funny, she thinks he used to add. 

She hasn’t had to describe him to anyone new in a while. She purposefully did not tell coworkers at her new job anything about her personal life. She didn’t bring up having kids until she needed to use it as an excuse to take a day off. It worked out well. She liked to think she skillfully avoided conversations about her love life, but in reality the college students she worked with had absolutely no interest in knowing. 

How would she describe him if she had to right now? She wondered. Which features would she highlight. 

What did she used to highlight? Back when they started dating she would say he was tall. A former swimmer. Coached swimming now. Went to college on a Caribbean Island. Was black. Had a child from his first marriage. Was a banker. Was set to inherent a house in the coming years. Played the flute as a kid. Whistled whole symphonies. Was homeschooled. Was religious. Was Republican. Was really good in bed. Could go for hours. Gave really good back massages. Had his life together. And that they enjoyed watching Battlestar Galactica and The Wire together. 

She wondered what he said when a coworker asked, “What does your wife do?”

She told him once that it bothered her that he still called her his wife. There’s no where to go from her if she was already his wife again. 

For a week he wore his wedding ring. A friend of hers had been in their bedroom and asked about it hanging there. Her question prompted him to wear it again for a week. 

And then he put it back to hang on the watch holder on his dresser. And said nothing. 

She responded to this by switch their bedroom with the boys’ bedroom, painting their room, building shelves, and doing it all while he was a way for two days dropping of Sophie at her mother’s house. 

When he came home, he had a long speech about shared spaces and mutual decisions and being a unit and a couple.

She may have thrown in those last wo parts. 

That moving furniture plays a big role as her coping mechanism has not escaped her. 

Alex has no idea if Ford knows this. 

Chapter X: Pets

Chapter X: You Never Paint Anymore

Chapter X: Messes

Chapter X: Alone Days

The worst were the alone days, she thought. The days when she couldn’t get Ford to respond to anything. It felt so often like what chasing after a boy in middle school was like. As if there was just one thing, one tiny thing that she could do to make him love her. That maybe the boy she was chasing did love her, he just didn’t know how to show his affection for her.

That the boy ever did indeed love her was, of course, she added in her head, a huge assumption. 

Alone days felt like continual rejection. Followed by extreme self-hatred and anger. 

Usually alone days resulted in massive cleaning projects. She had once swept decades’ old dirt from the corners of the dingy, unfinished basement on a day like that. She had done it dressed in clothes she might go out to dinner in. A bra that fit. A shirt that showed cleavage. Heeled clogs that accented her calves. The first in a series of alone days was always the worst. The series always snuck up on her. A decade’s old pattern she had no radar for whatsoever. 

She hadn’t gone down to the basement to sweep. She had gone down there to make a statement about shared responsibilities by way of taking up the laundry he had started, but never finished that she needed to fold before Harrison left for a week with his grandparents. She came up sweating so much that she needed to stand in front of the AC for fifteen minutes before her arms stopped sweating enough to actually fold the clothes. 

They knew that this week alone without kids was coming for months ahead of time. The had been mildly excited together planning out the idea of being without kids for a week and both taking off from work. As the week got closer and closer, neither of them planned or prompted a conversation about what they might do. 

When asked by a friend at the block party they attended in their old neighborhood the day before, Ford had answered, “Oh, you know, day trips to the beach.” It was the first she had heard him mention any idea. She was reminded, unfortunately she added to herself, of the time they walked into a bagel store by the bank he worked at and the woman behind the counter had asked her how her Hawaii trip was. They hadn’t gone to Hawaii. “When did we go to Hawaii?” she turned to Ford to ask. “Oh, you know a little while ago,” he responded making himself seem busy with his wallet. Her heart had sank then. The day trips to the beach comment… she didn’t know what they made her heart do. 

On the first day that they were alone in the house together, she asked him to rub her neck and shoulders that were tense from perhaps sleeping on them wrong or just plain lethargic disobedience of her muscles. Tension, perhaps. He asked what he was going to get out of it in return. 

This is perhaps what relationships become – an economy of goods and services. 

It was usually by day for of the alone days series that her eyes would linger on his bulging stomach, his unkept hair. She’d start noticing how often he picks at his skin. How much she hates his beard. How gross his toenails had gotten. 

These are not fair observations, she thinks. 

And pointing out in their last big verbal fight how she never points them out to him during a fight last month likely wasn’t very productive, even if it was merely to contrast how often he makes her feel fat, ugly, lazy, and unwanted. The middle school girl chasing the boy was just glad to still have him paying attention enough to notice that she was sometimes and sometimes always a little of those things. 

She had no idea whether he felt as bad about himself. She did however know that it was even less productive to, by day five of alone days, to have gone through two therapy sessions-worth of conversation in her own head, assuming his answers throughout. Answers about his own feelings of inadequacy and how that gets projected onto her and their relationship. 

A meme had been making the rounds the week before. It stated that we have more conversations with ourselves than we do with any other person – and that we should be kind. She wasn’t sure whether the conversations in her mind had been kind or not. She supposed it would depend on how angry she sounded when she said it. How academic she could come off. How un-self-reflective he could make her sound. 

Because the response is never that she is insightful and he so very much appreciates having her in his life as his life partner. And, each time, it broke her a little more. To not be that person to him. 

He hadn’t mentioned how tidy the basement looked. Or that he didn’t have to finish the laundry. Or that she had packed everything Harrison needed. He didn’t ask if she had heard from Ollie, who had been overseas for over a week already. He didn’t like her changed profile picture. He didn’t ask her what the interview she had coming up was for. He didn’t congratulate her when she found out she was going to be teaching her first college-level writing courses that fall. 

She tallies these all up by day six of alone days. 

He gave short answers about how his 25 snakes were. How his work day was. Whether his the eviction of his mother’s tenants had happened for his mother. What he wanted for dinner. How the Zelda game online was going. If he knew about the timed release of postings for businesses. 

When he had announced two weeks earlier that his friend wanted to come up and stay for a few days with four of their kids, noting that his mother would also need to come up to check up on the eviction, it didn’t occur to him to make sure these didn’t occur on their week together without kids. On day two or so of alone days she had asked him if they had confirmed dates and he asked why it mattered. 

Because-we-have-no-kids-for-a-week-and-I-really-do-not-want-to-spend-it-with-your-mother-here-and-because-I-think-it-makes-total-sense-to-know-if-six-people-are-coming-to-stay-for-a-few-days-in-my-own-house,” was her dry response.

“And-since-I-am-not-even-allowed-to-have-friends-over-without-asking…” she has added. 

She had to follow-up two days later to get any update on either of these potential visitors. No to the family of six. Yes to the mother and her huge dog – but only for one day, he assured her. 

Their planned unplanned but nevertheless happening week was happening somewhere around alone day seven. 

She looked forward to her interview the next day if for no other reason than to have one or two people say something she did was wonderful. 

The movie they watched on that first day of no kids week (and about day four of alone days) made it worse. At the end the couple in the movie look adoringly at one another and say that they are each other’s best friend. 

This is not the first movie with this closing sentiment. 

Nor the first pin-drop-like-silence that they watched it with.

Twenty years earlier, she had broken up with her high school boyfriend in an attempt to get him to chase her. He didn’t. 

He froze and said nothing for weeks. 

She backtracked and tried to piece it back together.

She didn’t. 

That this is a pattern in her life has not escaped her. By day eight of alone days, the acknowledgement that perhaps she thinks she means too much to people kicks in. 

She feels like crying all the time. But wonders if she should keep a notebook of this, like the women’s health app that now tracks her period. An app that would track alone days, angry days, tension shoulders, attempts to interact, times he touched my hip, times he hugged back without me asking. Times he spooned me. 

Insert a debate about the game of points Ford alludes to all of the time when she brings these things up. It isn’t, she thinks, a game of plusses and minuses… but a game of chemical reactions with the hope of never ever being able to return to the state of alone days again. Forever changing by hardening or becoming a new compound all together. 

I totally plagiarized those ideas from a Harrison’s chemistry review sheet and a kids chemistry book where the chemicals have emotions and personalities, she thinks. 

Never too old to apply new learning. 

But when was the last time he told me I was beautiful? She wonders. 

Of All the Things I’ve Left Behind: Berber Carpet

         The apartment was covered in thick orange carpet. The kind of orange that comes in an 8-pack of crayons. It was not a tint of orange. It did not have some sort of cute name for the particular hue of it. It was, simply, orange. It was everywhere. The landing at the bottom of the stairs, every single stair, the hallway, the two bedrooms, the living room, the closet in the living room– each was covered in orange. It was a thirty-year old orange carpet from the span of decades in New York when it was still fashionable to smoke indoors. It was a time when vacuums were aspirational at best.

         By the time the carpet was ours, two families had lived on it for thirty plus years. First, my parents. Then, my mother’s brother’s in-laws. (This last bit never made sense to me growing up either – I had no idea who the elderly couple in the apartment was until years after they both had died. But nevertheless, each had worn out a spot in the carpet in front of their chairs in the living room.) Our own collection of random pieces of free furniture rested on top of the orange carpet for just over two years.

         It was the baby. That is what thrust the idea of new carpeting to us. My husband’s ever burgeoning germ-phobia mixed with a desire to start to make a life that looked a certain way helped get us to the carpet store. We bought carpet from the first place we went to, without walking beyond the front counter. We, in our to-be-new-parents-make-dumb-choices phase, bought white carpeting. The salesman sold us on the idea of Berber carpeting for its durability. Apparently we thought we would need something more durable than the thirty-years strong orange carpeting, even though our plan was not to be in that apartment for many more years. The durability concern seems, in retrospect, completely unnecessary.

         But so, we opened our first joint credit card account and began payments on $800 worth of white Berger carpeting, with installation. I was 22 and had never had a credit card before.

         The orange carpeting remained on the stairs and in the hallway. My husband could not see himself paying for the additional cost of carpeting 13 stairs or the landing at the bottom of the stairs. The bedrooms and living room where the baby would spend most of his time would be covered in white, durable fibers. Our miss-matched furniture would be lifted off of the orange and back on to the new carpeting.

         And thus, our life on the new Berber carpeting began. It was bright. It smelled new. It was easy to vacuum. It made us feel like adults in this all new way. It felt like owning something real. It wasn’t a rug that could be moved around – we had purchased something that was nailed down to the floor. It felt like one of the biggest decisions I had ever made.

         But, in the end, it, like our marriage, did not outlive the age of the orange carpet. It did not even outlast the three year warranty.


         Earlier this year, Mohawk Credit came up when I enrolled a new credit card in an online account under an umbrella company. It was the credit card with which the Berber carpet was purchased. I smiled at the thought of buying some more white Berber carpet for my current home with the same credit as back then. After all, for at least a little while, it existed in the same space quite well.

         The white Berber carpet continued to hold our crappy unmatched furniture and our later expensive couches and perfectly matched IKEA collection. It held the falling leaves of our ever expanding jasmine bush that his family had sent from their home country. The white Berber carpet experienced all of our arguments. It absorbed many tears. It is the background of many of our son’s baby photos. The white Berber carpet is where I stood, barefoot, while I stared out of the enormous bay window at him outside pacing on the dock as he contemplated why I wanted to leave him.

         The last time I saw the white Berber carpet was when I was helping him and his second wife move out of the apartment years later. It was after a terrible hurricane had dragged half of the house out to the bay. It was hanging at a 20 degree angle, the floor below the living room having been washed away. In the corner of the carpet, hanging enough to be seen from the dock, was a toy our son had lost under the radiator years earlier. It was sitting on top of the white Berber carpet, alone.

         It was the last of anything that ever would be there. The house, and all of its carpeting was demolished three months later.

         Of all the things I’ve left behind… the Berber carpet was the most practical at the outset.

Distanced Wanting & Mothers

My mother and I have never had an easy relationship.  Not now and not when I was younger.  There was always a distance.  It just was.  Is.  

Mothers’ Day this year happens on a day that is also my birthday.  My birthday is a day that has always made me think of Hawaii.  Not because I have ever myself been, nor ever really wanted to visited.  But because it was the day my grandmother, at the age of 60, was in Hawaii with her tight group of friends.  Rather than be with her only daughter on the day of her first daughter’s birth, she was in Hawaii with her friends.  It was a group so tight that my brothers and I would over our entire lives know as aunts and uncles.  But it was, nonetheless, a memory so rooted in my mother’s mind with such tremendous meaning as to have been passed down in story to me.  

She had a lot of memories like that.  Of her childhood and her daughterhood and her marriage.  A lot of “as a woman memories,” though never framed as such.  Instead, they were framed as being in wanting of a larger more meaningful context to the other players.  She wanted to mean more to the people in her life.  Always.  More.  And then, her memories became of her motherhood.  To my three older brothers.  And to me, her only daughter.  To me, her mother’s granddaughter if nothing else.  

This story about my birth while her own mother was in Hawaii has always been one in a series of deficiencies in her life.  Until.  Until I myself became a mother.  Suddenly it sounded different to me.  And then I wondered, “Would I be in Hawaii too?” 

I was very young when I realized my mother was not the one for me.  She was not going to be the woman in my life to make me grow, to give me strength, or to challenge me to be more.  She would be the woman to show me how to be long-winded.  Indeed, I was likely an English major because of her.  I remember the feeling the first time I asked another mother to take me home with her.  It felt like betrayal.  I was six.  

Indeed distance and quiet, yet tight relationships is how I have arranged much of my life.

Our Cancer Stories: Just Breathe

         Over the past thirteen years, many people have asked me what the words on my wrist meant. It was December of 2000.  The words were from a letter I had written my best friend months earlier.  We had written back and forth in these notebooks we had for about three years.  When one notebook had ran out of pages, we would spend hours looking for just the right one that we could afford with the change in the seat cushions of my car that we had not already spent on gas, used CDs, coffee at the diner, (usually) whiskey, and cigarettes.  The pages of the notebook were filled with typical teenage life: boys, friends, quotes, school, college, angst, drawings, driving illegally, cigarettes, our parents, and our brothers. 

         And her father was dying of cancer. 

         At seventeen I didn’t really know what to do for her.  She had sort of distanced herself from her other friends who had known her family more closely than I had until then.   Not knowing what else to do with the information, or the emotions that went with it, we just drove.  And I told bad jokes and utterly embarrassing personal stories to make her laugh– an avoidance tactic I inherited from my father.  So we drove around, blasting music from far before our time from the scratched CD player shoved between the seats to keep it from skipping.  And we just sped around the island, trying desperately to get lost.  We drank coffee in smoke-filled diners over fried food. 

         And we avoided the topic of her father dying. 

         Until we didn’t.  Until what we began to write was the beginning of acknowledging what wasn’t okay about it.  Until I wrote that it was heart breaking to think he wouldn’t be there on the porch to say, “Hey, kid” when she came home.  To walk her down the aisle.  To make her mother laugh.  It went on for five pages.  It was, she said, the first time anyone had been honest about what was happening.  Exactly what I needed… and she added, “And thanks for telling me not to read it on the bus.”

         We avoided it until she wrote, “When I hear him sigh, that worn out sigh… it makes me want to start crying.”  And then, weeks later, “But I need to be able to hate these things.  And I need to be able to love all of those other things.”

         I had known other people who had died from cancer.  Family members, uncles, the usual collection most of us have known.  I remember being utterly terrified as a very young girl at my grandfather’s funeral.  I remember people being sad.  I remember my grandmother walking into her house from her last trip to the hospital, shrugging in a worn out way, and saying, “Well, that’s it.”  Years later, while I spent months in various states instead of going to college, my mother had thyroid cancer.  I always had the vague sense that we were a family that got cancer every so often.  It just happened.  It wasn’t, somehow, so jarring. 

         My best friend’s father died in late November of 2000.  His cancer was the first that I had witnessed as a close bystander.  And the first I knew to cause such quiet havoc on a family.  To make such little sense.  To be so painful.  Every fiber of my being fell apart at his funeral.  For him.  And for the family sitting in the front pew. 

         Ultimately, but not until many years later, I tried to find a sort of lesson in all of it.  Not in the cancer, but in the havoc.  In the reaction.  In the handling of it… in the process of proximity.  For many years after his death, his daughter and I didn’t talk very often.  She once came over for grilled cheese and tomato soup.  We talked about books being assigned to us English majors.  She would write from a trip to England, including posh postcards and trinkets.  When we talked it was as if no time had passed.  We would have flashes of the sort of communication we used to have. 

         But everything had changed for her.  There was no “Hey, kid” when she walked up her front stoop. 


         I am reminded, quite often, of something she wrote to me in the year her father died about walking down alone to the docks during a thick foggy day, “And it felt so good to be there, and not have to be someone to anyone.”

         I think that’s what she needed from me – on all of those long drives to nowhere. 


         What I had written back to her, about her father’s worn out sighs, was this: “... Just breathe.  Feel completely.  Let yourself see that this is your life.  And know that you are bigger than it.  Wiser than it.”


         A lesson in there, I think, is to let yourself not be someone to anyone else every now and then.  To be okay with that.  To find yourself just breathing- despite all of the evidence to the contrary. 

What We Were From

She is in a 4-bedroom house in the suburbs. The house sits on just about a quarter of an acre of land. The backyard looks over the field of the elementary school. She is the youngest and the only daughter. Her bedroom is on the second floor looking out on the field. From her bedroom she can see the playground. At night, the lights on the playground cast a shadow on the old wooden structure that look, to her, like men holding machine guns, facing her. 

She could hear her parents screaming at each other from where she was perched at the top of the stairs. The stairs were scratchy on her skin through her pajamas. They were in their bedroom at the bottom of the stairs. During their fights, her father always repeated her mother’s name. It always seemed to her like he did this because he could not catch up with her accusations. 

She had been told to go to her room as a punishment. She pulled the brown plastic horse out from underneath her bed. She sat on the floor next to the bed. Because her mother did not want the new comforter to get ruined, she was never allowed to sit on the bed when she got in trouble and was sent to her room. She heard footsteps on the stairs and quickly threw the horse back under the bed. 

She cleans her bedroom, as instructed by her parents. Taking everything out of the closet, she opens the “fire ladder” box. In it, lays a bunch of steel pipes, held together by silver chains. There is an instruction manual. She closes the box. On its cover are a mother and daughter, both in nightgowns, climbing down the ladder thrown out the second story wind down to a man who is waiting on the ground outside the window. The scene terrifies her and lives in her closet. 

About an hour into the yelling, she heard the quick sound of something scraped and then the sound of a break. She walked downstairs, pretending to be getting a glass of milk from the kitchen. The screaming stopped when they heard the squeaking of the stairs. 

There was the sound of vacuuming at night. A few minutes later, she asked them if she could have a wrapper for her nickels and pennies. She walked into their bedroom. On top of the green carpet were fresh vacuum lines. On top of the dresser with Precious Moments figurines with missing heads and arms. 

At night, with the light from the hallway that snuck in because the bedroom door never quite shut all the way, she lined up her cassette tapes on the bedspread. Behind each, she set a small stuffed animal. At the front, she placed Wrinkles, the pound puppy that sat upright. He was going to teach the class. 

After school, her fifth grade teacher saw her in the hallway. She pulled her over to the other side, away from her friends. She showed her the letter with her mother’s handwriting. “This,” the teacher said, “this is not your fault.” They never discussed a single time more.

She cried for a really long time that day in August. Her mother and two of her three brothers had left for a week’s long vacation at the beach. She had stayed behind with her father. She had gotten in trouble. She hadn’t thrown out the cereal box when it was empty. Her mother, “couldn’t take it anymore.” The next day, she and her father would drive the four hours down to the beach in the dark. She would get the bedroom at the top of their rental. By the end of the week, her brother would tell her how much nicer it had been before she arrived, when it was just them. 

As they drove away from the evening showing of “Beauty and the Beast” at the movie theaters, she looked out of the back window of the family minivan. She stared at the headlights behind them. She willed the feeling of melancholy to rush over her, surprised at how much control she had come to have over it. 

The apartment was less than a mile away. It was on the second floor. She had never been in an apartment before. It had a tiny kitchen. It had a clown floating on a parachute made out of paper mache in the corner. Her father gave her the clown when he moved back home a month later. 

She usually wore pajama pants and a shirt to bed. The green nightgown, she thought, made her look more like a girl. It is what she was wearing when she went downstairs during her brother’s sleepover birthday party. It, the boys said, made her look like a gigantic booger. 

At the end of the front walkway were two short steps. She sat on the top one as she told her friend from across the street that she thought her father had cheated on her mom. That there was some story about a wrestling match. That her mother had told her some vague things. 

The carpet at the top of the stairs was pulling around the closet outside of her bedroom door. There was a small alcove between the door, the closet, the top of the stairs, and the bathroom. She stared at the gray string of thick carpet as she listened to her parents fight. 

She got up from the carpet and walked downstairs, through the living room where they were arguing, and into the bathroom. She started to read the shampoo bottles. A knock on the bathroom door, “Are you ok in there?” from her mother. They had stopped arguing. 

Her father’s second apartment was on the first floor of the same apartment building. A new futon would be shared by two of them when they stayed over. Dinners of ravioli were shared over a tiny table, barely big enough for their four plates until he quickly decided that they would be a family that ate in front of the television in the, much bigger, living room. 

She copied down the lyrics and left them for her mother. She had to keep rewinding the casette to get the lyrics all correct. At the top of the page, she wrote, “I’ll Stand By You.” When her mother saw the note, she looked both perplexed and tremendously sad. She said nothing. 

She sat in the corner of the kitchen, on top of the counter. It was her favorite spot to sit in the whole house. It made her feel older when she sat on top of the counter and her parents let her. She sat there as her mother handed her a letter, addressed to the four kids. Her father looked on in amazement and fear. The letter, her mother claimed, would let them all know what was really going on. 

He was holding onto the garage door and standing on a skateboard. “Here, I’ll push you across,” she quickly said and then pushed the skateboard with her foot. “No! Wait!” he yelled, as he fell flat on his face. 

Her father had already moved out three other times in the last five years. They had run out of money. So he moved into the back bedroom, sat on the futon, and stared at the wall. 

Thanksgiving always included aunts and uncles and cousins and weird formalities of eating and pie. All four siblings had to dress nicely. This always meant a dress for her and button up shirts or nice sweaters for her three brothers. Holidays meant that there would be soda in the house. That Thanksgiving, when she was 11, she began to bleed in the bathroom. She quickly pulled one of her mother’s pads from the cabinet. She did not say a word to anyone the rest of the night. 

It snowed for two straight days. They were outside building an obstacle course through which to pull the sled around. They had just finished the second “big” jump - a bump about six inches high. “You better go inside,” her brother said, coming back outside to help. “Mom’s mad at something.”

Her best friend’s mother threw knives at her father when she was 13. Her father ducked and kept arguing. This was the story she failed to tell her own parents that year. 

The inside of friends’ homes always worried her. Most others were immaculate. The kind where you take your shoes off at the door. Suddenly sock choices became important considerations. 

As she sat on the black futon next to her brother, she felt empty. She knew she should be embarrassed. She knew she should feel bad that her brother had to hear all about this. She knew that her father was slightly mortified by the whole thing. When her mother had found underwear with blood stains, pushed to the back of her dresser, her response was to be mad. To feel rejected. To be angry that her daughter did not share the moment with her. “When did this all start?!” her father asked her, angrily. “Just last month,” she lied. It had been six months earlier. 

The dog had bitten her brother. That is what they said when she came home from school to find the dog gone. Her dog. Her Max. Upset, she stormed off to her room, stomping on each step. Her mother followed after her, “This wasn’t easy for your father to do. This is the same day that his father died, you know!” 

The walk back to the house was just three and a half blocks. She was supposed to stay at play rehearsal with her brothers who were building sets, but she was done with her homework. She had wanted to impress the older girls on the crew. She walked home, went upstairs, and began copying down what was in her brother’s journal. On the walk back to the school, her father drove by, screaming at her that she was not supposed to be home, that he would get in trouble, that it was his night with them. 

In sixth grade, at the age of 12, she was an extra in the school play. The girls in the play all did costume changes in the wrestling room. S played one of the leads. She was a year older. Her costume was made of silky white fabric. On the second day of performances, while the costume from act one sat discarded on the wrestling match, she noticed the bright red stain on the costume pants that S wore that night. 

She was sitting in the backseat of the car with her friend. They were in the friend’s parents’ car. Her friend’s father was driving. When “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” came on the radio, her mother reached in the back seat and grabbed her hand. Her friend looked over at her, as mixture of apology and pleading in her eyes. 

L’s step-father helped out with the sets for the school plays. He was funny and kind. He was a huge help. He had been sexually molesting his step-daughter for years. 

She mulled around the middle school with S. They didn’t have anywhere to be or anything to be doing. They strolled into the coach’s classroom, greeted with a friendly smile. S took her soda from her and took a sip from the straw. “Aren’t you afraid of sharing germs,” the coach had asked. S took a finger and ran it down her friend’s arm. Now I have tons of her cells on me. There was a noticeable pause in coach’s response. 

She walked into Mrs. Z’s classroom. Standing behind the cart the held a liquor box full of colorful pencils and a cigarette box full of books, Mrs. Z. smiled. She didn’t usually stop into the classroom like this. “Could you drive me on Sunday? To the wedding?” Without skipping beat, Jayne replied, “Yes.” 

A few of them were out in the gazebo. It was late. They were all staying there that night. She smoked a cigarette that her friend had handed her. She had not noticed M moving closer to her. She would have no memory as to how they got from the gazebo to the twin bed. In an awkward attempt at intimacy, she would bump foreheads with him really hard in the dark. They both had bumps on their heads for the next week. Every weekend thereafter, they were together. 

They had been in the rafters of the high school auditorium, pretending to check on the lighting for the show. They had a bird’s eye view of the ridiculous discussion between director, actors, crew, and faculty advisor. At the brief moments when their tongues were not down each others’ throats they caught some of the heated discussion. Twenty minutes in, her father popped his head up from the opposite side of the rafters, “Hey! You up here? Your brother said you were up here.” M quickly went down the ladder, which she walked toward her father. 

She sat in the back of the Oldsmobile. The music was blasting and the other girls in the car were singing along to it or talking loudly over it to one another. She had no idea where they were going. “Ready?” the driver asked. “For what?” she asked as the car quickly sped inside an old brick tunnel. “Ah!!” they all yelled. The two-way road that went under the one-car wide tunnel was empty, except for them. They had driven an hour to go through that tunnel. 

“This is a problem,” he said, putting her hand on his crotch. They had been kissing for an hour at that point, much like they had done every night and afternoon they were together. “I’m sorry. I’m… I’m not.” He kissed her again and then ran up the stairs. He came back a few minutes later and they went to sleep on the couch cushions laid out on the floor. 

She went to his prom with M. They had already broken up, in some sense of the word. She had never really felt comfortable being a girlfriend. She hadn’t known why. S was in their limo. That night, all laid out in different places across a friend’s living room floor, S wrote of them, sleeping next to one another, “He holds her like he is apologizing to her.” 

He sat next to her in pre-Calculus. He programmed her calculator to play video games. Together, they flirted, quietly throughout the day. She had been at his house with another friend on the night she found herself in his room. She was sitting next to him on the bed. They had all been talking about random things. She placed her hand near his back and then on his back. As the night went on, she ran her hand slowly up and down his back. 

Her beeper went off. “It’s him,” she said. She called the number. They made plans to all hang out. Eventually they started kissing. They spent a lot of time that summer kissing and almost having sex. Naked and sweaty and doing everything except. She had been keenly aware that he was not a virgin. He had been hurt by his first girlfriend and then had a long “very sexual” relationship with the last girlfriend who was “significantly older” than him. He had told her, “Sex stops meaning as much when you have it every day multiple times a day.” For years afterwards, she would never quite know how this applied to her and him. 

“You were my jewel brought to me to teach me things.” The three-page hand-written letter had a small plastic jewel glued to the page. 

“Do you want to get back together?” M asked her. 

She sat on the counter by the back door. Five friends sat around the kitchen table, drinks in hand, and nothing much to do. He stood next to her. The leaning in, hand brushes, hair fixing flirtations had been going on for most of the night. As the friends all either left or find where they were going to sleep around the house that night, she pulled him outside and to the back gazebo. As they got to the steps, she turned around and sat, pulling him on top of her, and kissing him. After a few minutes, he asked “It is really cold out here. Can we go back inside now?” 

The captain’s bed had been her brother’s. The tiny room at the back of the house had been her brother’s as well. When they laid down in the bed in the room, she had known exactly where they were heading that night. When he said the condom had come off, he was more worried than she was. 

“Um, M’s at the door,” her brother said. She got up from the dinner table and went to the front door. “Can I talk to you?” M asked. They walked down the front walkway to the two steps at the end. “Have you been with anyone else?” It was months after they had broken up, or more accurately just stopped seeing each other. “Um, before you, yes - just B, you know him.” M went on to explain some sort of medical thing he was having (what sounded like a hernia, to her). In that moment, it occurred to her that M had lost his virginity that year to her, in her brother’s bed. 

The whole time she worked at the restaurant, she didn’t really look like herself. She dressed in black, heeled clogs, wore short skirts and button-up shirts with the top buttons undone, and tied half of her hair back loosely. She had lost the baggy jeans, band t-shirts, and baggy sweaters with big clunky boots look. When she met A, she looked like this revised version of herself. Cleaner. Older. Less afraid of feminity, perhaps. 

She made him wait over a month before they slept together. The first time was in his apartment above the flower shop. He was the first person she had ever been with who had their own apartment. It has just a mattress on the floor in the bedroom, but it was a queen mattress. It felt, to her, like maturity. This she thought as he dry humped her laying back on the cheap couch in his apartment while she was wearing her bright red blouse and black mini skirt. 

In the first month that they lived together, they had purchased a waterbed. Within two days, the whole thing leaked and they had to throw the mattress away. They kept the frame, pulled the old mattress back in from the roof they had left it on until garbage day, and went on sleeping. A week later, when she developed a red hive rash on her arm, it did not occur to her to associate this with the possibility of bed bugs from being left outside on a roof. Instead, she shyly asked her doctor about taking an HIV test instead. “He’s from Africa,” she noted when the doctor inquired why she was asking for that test in particular. “Ah,” the doctor replied. She never did go. But she held onto the paperwork for months. 

She found out that her father had taken out a huge loan from the bank without telling her mother. She found this out when her mother told her. Found it out when her mother told it to her as a reason for why she needed her to move out of the apartment above her grandmother's house, so that she could “finally” move on by moving in. 

They went to visit her father at the old house. The house seemed enormous with so much furniture moved out of it. She hadn’t moved any of what was left. It all, sort of, didn’t quite fit. “Were the walls always this yellow?” she wondered. 

She didn’t know why she hadn’t told anyone. She kept telling herself that line. She knew exactly why she had not told anyone. Because she has 13. Because she felt ugly. Because she hated the possibility of attention. Because so many had assumed for so long anyway. Because it was 1996. Because kids in the suburbs weren’t openly anything other than heterosexual in 1996. 

The Tape Shut Red Journal

A few weeks ago I asked a very old friend of mine to read a draft of a book I am working on.  Well a second draft.  She had already read through and commented on the first draft.  She in turn asked me what she should do with a bunch of old journals she had laying around that she did not ever want her husband flipping through.  Stuff from college.  Stuff from a person she might have been a decade ago, but failed (willfully, smartly) to maintain.  Affairs are hard work.  Exhausting.  Especially when one writes them down before, during, and after.  And then moves on to another life.  I have not seen her in over three years.  Before that, I had not seen her in about seven years.  I told her to send them to me.  

She had recently found a photo of his ex-wife in his desk drawer.  A magazine clipping.  Sexual pose.  Something like that.  She found it and felt both shocked and scared by the meaning of the photo having been kept so long after the divorce, but then she felt worried by the meaning of her looking in his desk and interrupting the privacy they had both quietly agreed to give one another.  After all, he had never looked through her personal effects.  

That said, when I got the journals in the mail along with an edited draft of my book, there was tape all around the journals to keep them closed.  It was old masking tape that even if carefully removed for viewing the pages and then carefully replaced would never have looked the same.  The intrusion would have been obvious no matter what means to hide it.  

When she asked him about it, she said that she liked the photo of his ex-wife in his drawer.  Or something like that.  He responded that a lot of people had.  It was in a magazine.  She exhaled.  He had kept it.  Not for any remaining love for the woman.  Not because she was tall and skinny and beautiful.  Not because his second wife was not tall and thin.  But because it was a photograph that he had taken that had actually gotten published.  He was proud of his work.  The subject was irrelevant and somewhat beside the point of the achievement.  

When I got the journals in the mail I laughed.  I hadn’t actually expected her to send them.  I did not initially open either of the two.  One was a large tan book.  The other a small red one.  A note was attached.  “I was afraid to open this one, but you I will read the novel of it when you finish it,” it read.  Still, I did not open it.  I put them on my book shelf.  Sometime a week or so later, I finally looked.  The little red one was not her journal from college.  It was a journal she and I had passed back and forth for about a year as young adolescents.  “Oh my…” I said out loud as I flipped through, stopping occasionally at a memory I had long stored away.  

I remember she had come home with the red journal after a trip to Disney World with her family.  Her father was a writer, famous in his own space of people.  Comic books.  Science-fiction novels from off-shoots of George Lucas films.  That sort of thing.  A trip to Disney was not, seemingly, optional for the family.  It was yearly.  The house, stuffed already with comic book paraphernalia, magazines, stuff Disney dolls, and likely for valuable collectibles from various cartoons and comics and movies.  Every year more items were added, and little was ever reorganized to fit it all.  It just kept accumulating.  There was a hidden room behind a bookcase.  It had a showcase of expensive snow globes, figurines from comic books, and (I think) early edition comic books.  The journals she picked up over the years (that she hid on high shelves in that house), matched the house. 

She recently sent me a link to photos her step-mother had posted of her half-sister and her youngest sister.  One set was from a dance recital.  The other from a comic book convention.  They are the same photographs from her childhood, but with a slightly different set of characters.  Her father, she says, is upset that his second wife wants to raise their daughter in a Catholic church.  We both agree that no one makes it out of the town we grew up in with any real sense of religion, so his worry is all for naught.  He cannot understand that, of course.  That he raised his children in suburbia still seems odd to us all.  

The background in the photos taken at their home shows the same accumulation of items, shifted, but never maintained.  Still, the photo of her father, half-sister, and step-mother in front of the tree in the yard, all dressed for church.  The daughter in a white dress for communion.  And the expression on his face.  For me, every bit of that family’s history that I was there to witness comes flooding back.  And it is a life’s moment.  To have these families of the people who know us well enough to send their journals to us for safe keeping after a decade’s absence in our physical lives.  To see the evidence of their lives continuing on.  To see, as in this case, a seeming attempt to relive a life with a different set of children, a different spouse, and the same environment.  

And yet, the children of their first lives hold on to the written evidence of the best and worst of the lives they had been provided with.  Though no particular line of demarcation was laid, she has moved on to another life, having been exhausted by the one in the photos.  Having exhausted all of the options it provided.  And having found, at least some of it, worthy of masking tape to maintain the words once used to describe it. 

Cultural Autobiography (or, Where We Was From revised)


         It is a Saturday morning in the mid-nineties.  She is sitting in the worn brown chair in her Jewish friend’s living room, with one long leg hanging over the armrest.  She is fifteen years old.  She is wearing old loose jeans, a long somewhat tattered black sweater, scuffed black boots, and has her long blonde hair tied back with a single black band.  Her skin is tanned along the lines of a softball uniform.  Her left hand has the distinct outline of a white batting glove at the wrist.  She is wearing silver earrings and a silver half-moon necklace.  A collection of small beaded bracelets is on her right wrist.

         It is Fourth of July weekend.  Her Jewish friend’s parents are in Queens, visiting family.  Her parents are home in their barely paid for, in need of repairs, house just a few blocks away.  They are cleaning the house, doing laundry, mowing the lawn, and sometimes throwing three lab-mix dogs a toy in the backyard.  Their children have all completed their required chores for the weekend.  Her Jewish friend’s house is a mess and smells like cats and dust.  The maid cannot even make a dent in the mess in any given week.  The bagels they ate that morning were buttered on top of the heap of expensive comic book paraphernalia permanently stored on the kitchen table. 

         The night before the two friends had watched a portion of Pulp Fiction, listened to Tori Amos CDs, joked about classmates and teachers, and in a fit of boredom and curiosity, likely had a clumsy sexual experience that they won’t mention to anyone for half a decade but will continue to have for a year.  The rest of the weekend would be spent possibly walking to the town’s music store to thumb through the collection of used CDs, asking the Jewish friend’s oblivious father (who was about to divorce his bipolar wife) for money, and another venture out for pizza.  They would play bad 80s music on the pizza place’s jukebox.  They would sit in the back-most booth. 

         When it gets dark, another friend joins them and they walk down to “the shorefront” and walk around on the playground and band shell there.  On the half a mile walk there, they will pass homes where multiple “Spanish families” live.  Only five of the children from these families are the same age, though the group does not know the classmates’ names, as they are ESL students who are kept with the special education students (who themselves are merely a mixture of behavior problems and horrid family lives).  As they walk through this short span of houses, one of the friends likely says something in relation to “those people” in “our” town.  This comment will likely come sarcastically from the Jewish friend or clumsily joking from the pale friend and be accompanied by only a smirk from the girl.  At this point in the walk, one of them awkwardly lights a cigarette to the disgust of the pale girl.             

Throughout the day, the three joke about Jews, Germans, Nazis and the drinking Irish.  These jokes come naturally from their mouths, much less awkwardly than the comments about the “Spanish families.”  They do not joke about the fact that the Jewish girl’s mother threw a knife across the kitchen once.  They do not joke about the emotionally abusive mother.  They do talk about her wealthy absent father who took them to the city once in his town car. 

         She has to be home for dinner at five o’clock and will call to see if both friends can come to dinner.  The pale girl’s emotionally abusive mother and (we come to find out) otherwise abusive stepfather won’t be home for dinner, so she doesn’t have to call.  The Jewish friend’s family does not have a dinnertime and her younger siblings will find food somewhere in the kitchen sure enough.  After a steak dinner, the three are dropped off at the local movie theater, where the older girl’s best friend and boyfriend both work.  They sneak in for free.  Later, the older friend purchases liquor and the group disband into other social groups.

         That each set of parents is or has been on the verge of divorce that will permanently scar their children does marry their adolescent experiences to one another.  That all of the parents horribly manage their finances will never allow the three a view of how to handle money well.  That all were siblings who developed a sense of distant protective needs over their other siblings will be reciprocated eventually by those siblings.  That all were involved in music or theatre at their school will be related to their group of friends more than their own interests or abilities.  That the one will become a music teacher living in the middle of nowhere Michigan with her artsy movie-buff husband is directly related to how much money her father could throw at the “problem” of his children and their suburban upbringing.  That the pale one will go from being listed in Who’s Who of High School Students to becoming a college drop-out, gain one hundred pounds, and only be able to find part-time work will be directly related to being the oldest in a working-class family with deep rooted emotional issues.  That the other will marry twice and have three children by age 27 will somewhat be a residual effect of having no money to fund the cross-country trip she found herself on after walking away from a Division II athletic scholarship.  Most of these things will be choices, some will have been circumstantial.  Any of the outcomes could be inter-changeable with the fates of a multitude of others they had attended school with.  

         Aside from being home-schooled and having parents who actually went through with a divorce when he was an early adolescent, her second husband and she grew up in very similar, structured families.  That said, once asked in a survey for a college class, “how long have you known that you were black?” her husband is used to people assuming his identity is wrapped up in being a black man.  In actuality it is wrapped up in being a father, a son, a swimmer, and a friend.  A six foot six African-American man with an IQ over 130, the son of divorced parents who was home-schooled, who went to college on a full athletic scholarship, and whose siblings are all in the military, they did have similar middle-class suburban experiences, but he does not think about them in such long-winded terms.  

She on the other hand, encouraged by multiple teachers and always somewhat introverted, wrote down most of my experiences for many years.  Since the bagels atop high-priced comic books, she has written about the twenty-two-year old hippies she traveled cross-country with at age eighteen.  The dead father of her ex-best friend.  The emotional upheaval of that death.  The emotional impact of a clinically depressed mother who called her “my gift to teach me things”.  The instance of a father lacking in self-esteem.  The Vegas marriage of herself to her first husband.  The month and a half long stay in an Arab country. The birth of her first son.  The separation from her first husband.  The absurdity of working in academia when one is not an academic.  The chaos of sudden romantic freedom.  The working for students her age with faculty her parents’ age.  The troubles of financial instability.  The final separation of her aging parents.  The meeting of her perfect match.  An unplanned pregnancy.  The ridiculousness of the legal system.  The move from a white middle-class neighborhood to a middle-class section of a black neighborhood.  A shotgun wedding in a New Age woman’s backyard.  The gaining of an ex-husband, a husband, a husband’s ex-wife, a step-daughter, and a newborn all in one week.  The showing up back at work with a new last name and a sleeping baby on my desk.  The being required to write a “cultural autobiography” for a class. 

         My current cultural lens is shaded much the same way as the quiet fifteen-year-old’s lenses were- by circumstance and availability of outlets for communication.  Back then, I could convey my thoughts, emotions, and ambitions to those who were also middle-class, suburban adolescents.  I often also sought out (and found) older, educated, generally cynical woman who would rhetorically agree to act as a pseudo-alternative mother figure.  We did all have one black friend, one Hispanic friend, one Indian friend, and one or two Chinese friends.  There simply was no more than one per group in our largely white school population.  (And by “we,” I mean to include that each student, Caucasian or otherwise had one friend from each ethnic background, but definitely all of the same middle-class status).

         Now the circumstances of my career and home life offer different available outlets, which shade my cultural lens.  Close ties with much older academics offer different conversational possibilities than speaking to my high-school educated parents or friends’ parents.  Being married to someone my own age shades my cultural lens differently than being married to a man ten years older did for many years.  Having a multilingual, Muslim son does not change my culture so much as make me attuned to religious adherence and language in a new way in order to be able to understand and help a five year old understand his world.  In much the same way, moving to a neighborhood whose parents send their children outside to play every day has highlighted how infrequently I would see others’ children when my son and I went for walks in our old neighborhood.  My interdisciplinary, academia-nauseous, educated cultural lens also tells me that for the purposes of a class like this, I should think about how and why the white neighborhood we lived in is different from the black neighborhood we now live in.  It is what most of the Ph.D.s I work with would likely look for in an admissions essay.  My actual cultural lens tells me that that type of relating will not help my African American and African-American children move past the racialized thinking of those before them that created a need for required courses like this one.  

         Others saw the fifteen year old as a tall, pale, dressed all in black, athletic, artistic, and quiet girl that likely listened to scary music and seemed mean.  If they were black, they might add “white girl” to that.  If they were foreign, they might add “American girl” to that.  In both cases, they would be correct.  But, in this life, we are largely alone.  Society tells me that I am a white woman, married to a black man with two black children and one Muslim child.  To me, I am a tall, vastly out of shape woman with three children, married to a taller often sarcastic man whose mother is amazing.  My children are merely my flesh and blood.  As my eldest son who loves working on toy airplanes with his uncle once told me when I told him he did not go to church because he was Muslim, “I’m not Muslim, I am an airplane mechanic.”  I cannot argue with that.  My husband was raised as a middle-class, educated person.  Like most of us, he can “talk black” when he wants to or when he needs to.  Ironically, this ability proves he is more educated and intelligent than the person to whom he needs to switch for. 

         When I was in Tunisia for a month and a half, I found myself introducing myself as “not that kind of American.”  There are certain people in my life with whom I would feel I needed to add the words “handsome, sarcastic, and educated” to my description of my husband before I mentioned that he is black.  In so much, I am indicating that he is “not that kind of black guy.”  Growing up in a largely white middle-class Long Island neighborhood meant sometimes running into lower-working-class people who were often loud, unorganized, poorly dressed, and who had poor grammar.  While we often cannot describe what “class” is, we know class difference when we see it, hear it, smell it, or touch it in someone else in our immediate space.  Growing up, more often than not, the lower-working-class people were black.  The substitution of skin-color for class and economic status was engrained in our minds. 

           When my eldest son was two years old, he asked me what color he was.  I showed him all of the different colors his body was.  He had pink and white nails, tan skin, brown hair, white and brown eyes with two black spots, and he had a red tongue.  He said, “And I used to have yellow hair like you.”  He has not asked this question again and I often wonder if it is merely a matter of time before he must endure a class on “tolerance” and “diversity.”  As of now, he understands that the reason his friend “Brian with a B” thinks “trains are for babies” is because he, unlike my son, has rarely been on a train or a subway and he just doesn’t know yet all about them.  My son agrees that the issue is that Brian just has not experienced what he has about trains.  Furthermore, Brian lacks the tact to realize this about himself.  If we teach our children to see perspective of experience, perhaps color and culture will not be categories in which we labor over breaking through.  In the twenty-first century education is a hands-on, dynamic event.  However, theorists and the professors who promote them continue to provide students with a chart of coping skills through “racial identity stages” as if the “aha” moment that may derive from finding one’s current “box” is any less arbitrary than the categorizing that created “race.”  I respectfully refuse to check a box.  


Growing up, I always thought that my grandmother was rich. The house by the water, the golfing, the travel – all of these I associated in my mind with wealth. As I got older though, I came to realize that it wasn’t those things that made me assume that my grandmother was rich. It was the people. She was constantly surrounded by people. Funny people. Good people. Smart people. Real people. People whom my brothers, our cousins, and I would come to know as aunts and uncles not because of any blood line, but because of a deep life-line that was the pulse of my grandmother’s life that spanned decades.

We all remember the yellow legal pad list of birthdays and anniversaries that she kept on the refrigerator. This list encompassed a lifetime of laughter, of friendship, of tears, of loss, and of absolute utter undeniable love. If you were on her list – your life was touched by this amazing woman and the incredible company she kept. 

For her entire life, Inga has always been a proud woman. A stoic woman. A pragmatic woman. A friend. A daughter. A wife. A mother. A grandmother. A great-grandmother. And always, always consistently Inga. She would proudly tell of the story of her father, who knew no English, learning how to ask for a steak at the food line – and there being none left after all of his hard work practicing the words that week. We all know the story of her arriving on the docks from Germany with her mother, wearing a big white bow in her hair, not having ever met her father, this kind man who kissed her mother and bent down kindly to hand her a red balloon. We have heard the story about the essay she wrote in fifth grade about the pride of her German roots. About the miss-pronunciation of her name by a teacher and her insistence that “It was fine.” About the chocolates her cousin stole from her in Germany when she went back to visit. When she spoke about her work as a secretary at the surrogates’ court – it was always with beaming pride, insight, and reflection. She would tell of crazy times at the Garden City Hotel and her stepfather having to come pick her up after one too many drinks. Of the crowd. 

And she taught us about the process of becoming and being the matriarch of this family. She worried, but not too much. She listened, but didn’t pry. She offered advice, but never pushed. She asked and applauded. She recognized good when she saw it and said it outloud. She would speak of pride in her children and her grandchildren’s accomplishments. She would talk about how far her great, great grandchildren had come. How special they were to her. And how the made her laugh with delight – the pure Inga chuckle that let you know you were home. 

Not long ago, a hurricane ripped through 3 Forest Avenue. It was like losing a family member – so many memories for so many people. It was the house that my grandmother opened over and over again to so so many. Relatives and friends and guests and anyone who would squeeze around the table for a laugh or cards or Scrabble or just sit and enjoy one another’s company. A house that was filled with laughter that would roll over the bay. I always felt safe there. Always. As an adult, in retrospect, I saw that the house that I thought indicated that my grandmother was rich indeed always needed some work. A new carpet, updated tile, a new deck and some primer and paint… But it never needed more love. The door was always open, literally. 

And sometimes, if you walked into her front door really quietly, you would catch her sitting at the kitchen table, staring out of the windows onto the bay. In quiet reflection. She would have a look of peace and calm and of wisdom. Sometimes a smile would come across her face, maybe thinking of days gone by. And just before you walked towards her to say, “Hello” and break the silence – there was this moment of utter awe. Of such a life. Of such a full life. 

These are some of the lessons I have learned from my grandmother:

1. Relax. 

2. Take naps.

3. Eat good food and drinks warm tea. 

4. Go to the dentist frequently.

5. Laugh. 

6. Find people to surround yourself with who can laugh with you, cry with you, and be there through the good and the bad and the mundane. 

7. Take time for yourself.

8. Revel in the company of others.

9. Keep good records.

10. Read.

11. Grammar and spelling are important.

12. You need a job, or a career, or a way to support yourself.

13. Hug back.

14. Be honest.

15. Don’t be afraid of life or people or things or the future. 

16. Build a network to support you, but support yourself (mentally, physically, and emotionally) first.

17. Love. Love deeply, no matter the cost or the distance.

18. Take care of each other. 

A true matriarch. I cannot possibly express in words the influence that having her in our lives has had on me and my sons, and everyone in this family. My brother told her, “You know, you’re one of my favorite people… in the whole wide world.” And I think that a lot of people could say that about Inga. That laugh. That caring and calm nature. A true matriarch who will be so so missed. 

Portraits and Exiles

Below is from a collection of short stories written sometime between 1999 and about 2006 that I had titled "Portraits and Exiles." 

 If You Need to Fall Apart:  the Dialogue

         --I’ve come to the realization that I have no idea what I’m doing and less of an idea of if I ever have... or will.  I can’t remember the last few weeks of June... or July.  My cousin died.  And I didn’t feel like I was going to cry until I hugged her sister and brother and her parents.  And I saw my grandmother cry.

         --“I’ll never cry.  I never learned.  And so I’ll watch as angels burn.”  Could I write for a living?  Could I survive off a pen and a piece of paper?  I don’t know if I can.  I don’t know what I’m meant for either.  One year left.  How weird is that- one year.  You say it like you’re dying when you graduate.  “You know what we’re waiting for Clyde?... An explanation.”

         --Chris’s parents just drove by.  I can’t begin to imagine what people that have watched us grow up think.  Scary.  You’re right, I did just give up.  I just want to be out of here.

         --I know that much.  Just need to go.  That’s why I don’t mind just driving around most nights (wasting your gas money of course), but you know what I mean?  For a couple of hours I don’t have to be myself, in my life.  Or maybe it’s at those times that I really am myself.  Who knows...

         -- What if I gave up too early?  P.S.  You’re going to be famous.

         --I lost something along the way.  And I don’t remember how that feels.  And I can’t even tell you if it’s even worth remembering.  Or maybe I realized that it wasn’t even worth holding on to.  Maybe it was a lot of things.

         --...Sometime in these last few days I stopped being suicidal.  It has slowly been leaving me for the last few years.  But now, it’s gone.  Not that I have a “new lease on life,” but I can’t feel that anymore.  “I don’t remember how that feels.” 

         --Yesterday my parents went into the city to see this really well known surgeon about operating on my dad.  When they got there he came out and said, “There’s nothing there for me to operate on.”  He said there wasn’t any cancer.  I’m numb.  I’ve been numb since my dad told me last night.  He still has to go for another scan, but if that comes back clear... then he could be all right- for a while at least.  Right now, there might not be any cancer in my dad.  I don’t know how to react to that.  I don’t know.  I feel like crying I think.

         --”Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”  Anything’s possible.  “Maybe tomorrow you’ll feel better.”  “I won’t let you fall apart.”  October.  And I feel like I am drowning.  Don’t make me cry.

         --My dad still has cancer in that tumor near his lung.  That fucking doctor was wrong.  Someone please give me an explanation because I’m sick of trying to come up with one.

         --Doesn’t it feel like the past week has been a whole year?  And in that year someone grabbed onto your arm a little tighter.  And that grip became a little bit more comfortable.  And you realized that it was what was keeping you from being stuck, but sticking you all the same.  And holding you up now that your legs have become weak.  Weak enough to hit the ground.  Drunk enough to not even care.

         --Something clicked.  Just think of all the small events that have rolled up into a ball and had an enormous effect on your life.  It’s impossible to list everything, but they are all small miracles.  Really.  My life makes this weird twisted image through a cracked mirror kind of sense.  Like my dad and all he’s going through- for all that fucked-upness.  The whole situation makes this weird kind of sense.  I knew he was going to get sick before he did.  I knew.  But you can’t stop things like that.  And... my hand is starting to hurt.  I wonder what all these people think I’m writing in this book.  If they only knew, huh?

         --”We’ve spent some time talking about limits... it’s some other kind of rule... undefined... what do all of these numbers mean...” I feel that this is all some weird, undercover movie or something.  I think we should buy a yacht and never have to work.  Come with me to Australia.

         --One thing I can say about him though, one thing I know- he needs you.  Because you make him a better person.  And it probably is the same way for you with him... My mom... I feel so bad for her.  And I want to make things okay for her... And my dad just isn’t the same anymore, but there’s nothing I can do for him.  He’s tired.  Tired of everything.  Frustrated.  But I can’t make it all go away.  When I hear him sigh, that worn out sign- it makes me want to start crying.

         --Your mom... write her a letter.  Your dad... hold on... and hug him.  And I wish I could give you some kind of something.  Something that would ease your mind... but I can’t... because they don’t make words like that.

         --I really do walk a fine line most of the time, between completely withdrawing from everything and jumping into it all without looking first.  I love that line though.  It keeps me feeling alive.  I like a lot of things in my life right now.  I also hate a lot of things, but maybe that’s the way it was meant to be.  I like driving.  I like seeing Danny outside of school.  I like seeing Michelle smile.  I like seeing you singing all the time.  I like that one picture I painted.  I like Jack Daniels.  I hate not knowing how to explain things to my mom.  I hate seeing my dad sigh with the weight of it all.  But I need to be able to hate these things.  And I need to be able to love all of those other things.

         --”...That it’s better to feel life- good and bad- then to feel nothing at all...” I’ve met absolutely incredible people.  Some for seconds, some for a month, some for my lifetime, but you’ve made your own place beyond all of them.  Everyone else seems to be this carefully developing painting.  But you’re this... tunnel bridge painting I did.  And no one can figure out which you really are- a tunnel or a bridge.  And there are so many colors, and so many unfinished lines.  And if you stare at it long enough- it drags you in.  Write your mother a letter.  Write your father a letter.  Write your brother a letter.  Write yourself a letter.  I mean that.  And you don’t need to know either- a tunnel or a bridge... just breathe.  Feel completely.  Let yourself see that this is your life.  And know that you are bigger than it.  Wiser than it.  And I’ve always had a blind faith in things turning out pretty okay... and yeah.

         --And I’m kind of just sitting here- more like strapped down here.  And I can’t do anything about a lot of the things happening in my life.  And I hate this- I need something I can’t have.  And I feel so sick right now.

         --What’s the worst that could happen if you said something?  He’s not going to not be there.  He’s not going to go away.  He’s not going to leave you hanging there... You’re one of the few people he respects in this world.

         --Do you really believe that?

         --For ten minutes: get over yourself...

         --And I can’t explain to you what an overwhelming feel of fear I’ve had lately.  It’s like opening a door and knowing someone is behind it.  It’s an indescribable feeling really.  It’s like never being able to relax, or feel at ease.  Or fall asleep- like someone constantly talking to you, or a cricket chirping.  And I’m wondering if I’ll ever feel at ease again, or not be scared.  And my eyes are starting to tear up again.  And I don’t know why. 

         --I am still alive.  What we through we knew.  Who we thought we were.  Where we thought we’d be.  Why we thought we’d stay.  How we though we’d breathe.  ...At three A.M.... when all she could do was feel.  And nothing else mattered.  And trust and vulnerability... I know exactly what you mean.

         --Maybe I’ve never felt this way before.  And it’s scary because I just realized who I was.  And what my life has been for the past two years.  And what I didn’t realize about it three months ago.  Five months ago.  Any months ago.

         -- “I start to accept the mess I’m in... Over the last few hours I’ve allowed myself to feel defeated... and just like she said, if you allow yourself to feel the way you really feel, maybe you won’t be afraid of that feeling anymore...” You’re going to miss steps.  You’re going to fall.  You’re going to fly.  You’re going to be thirty... And you’re going to have a life.  Your life.  Your choices.  Your couch.  Your toothpaste.  Your nights.

         --Two days ago I went for a walk down by the water.  And you couldn’t tell where the bay or the sky ended.  It was all white.  And the mist felt so good on my face.  And there was this dog there that was following me, but not in an annoying way.  And besides that dog, I was alone.  And it felt so good to be there, and not have to be someone to anyone.

         --What are you going to do when everything’s okay?


         They sat on the roof of the beach house.  Drunk.  And then the Ogre came.  Interrupting the silence.  He was more drunk.  Different.  The bearded man was ten years her senior.  The silence had been there all summer.  He was whom she wanted.  When those facts and figures were brought up to the bearded man, he said only, “but she’s leaving in September.”  And now on the roof, with the Ogre, they both knew those words had been said.  They stayed silent.  They looked out differently.  Nothing else but them seemed still.  Drunk.  Silent.  Eventually they had to climb down.

         M could have fallen off the dock.  She sat in the cart we were using to carry the ice and wine back.  We did have the keys.  We assumed permission.  We didn’t consider permission.  It was two A.M., maybe.  And so then it didn’t matter.  They got the food and wine.  I got the ice.  Pushing M, ice, and wine- we raced the toads back to the house.  Ducked under pricker bushes that covered the walkway.  M didn’t fall.  There was always something that could have happened.  Just in reach.  Somehow, we must have all thought we had some kind of control over that reach.  Somehow.  We entered back into the house.  Drunk. Eventually M disappeared into her room.

         The waitress from Amsterdam crushed ecstasy and snorted it feverishly.  She egged me on about the bearded man.  She was the one that had given him the facts and figures.  Drunk.  She told me stories of Amsterdam and where they’d go next.  About suitcases in restaurants, and rolling papers.  And things.  The Ogre came outside and offered me orange juice, calling me by some other girl’s name.  I smoked a cigarette with the redhead from Amsterdam, who asked me where the bearded man had gone. 

         The Ogre’s younger brother and ten of his friends assembled on the couches were being directed by the chef.  A man who had served in the army.  A man who knew how to cook.  A man who had traveled the world with cooking knives.  A man with tattoos.  A man that was drunk.  A man who liked to be in charge.  The waitress dated him.  They traveled together.  She knew he liked to be in charge.  She didn’t understand why he needed their attention.

         B hadn’t meant to become a chef that summer.  He had been the bartender.  But the money was better.  And he was willing.  He was a long-haired hippie.  He was a father.  He was waiting to leave.  Willing to go hungry if it meant clear sunsets.  Clean air.  Mountains.  Oceans.  His baby girl and her mother there.  Willing to sweat in a kitchen with the chef.  To serve two hundred meals a night, in a three-hour rush.  Drunk. He had disappeared behind M into their room, but returned later to walk and watch the sun rise.

         I was told that the Ogre had been found stealing money.  That the redhead and the chef left for Florida.  That B, M, and their baby took off for another coast after that season.  That I went with them.  The bearded man works at the head of the river now.  And has shaved off his beard.  Eventually, we all had to climb down. 

Ear to Ear

         T’s apartment was composed of four white boxes attached by simple doorways.  There was one futon, one ugly reclining chair, one stereo, shelves and crates of records, handing plants, on fish tank, and spiders in the shower.  It was somewhere in upstate New York.  Up some winding road, somewhere. 

         We had passed T’s small white station wagon a guessed three times without noticing.  He had come to look for us, seeing as it as getting so late.  After driving back and forth, up and down a street whose regulars wouldn’t even be able to recognize where they were, we finally spotted T’s car.  We followed him to his apartment. 

         It was pitch black except for the one street light and a faint light coming from the bar that was next to his apartment.  As B turned the engine off, T jumped out of his car, arms stretched wide open in an enormous shrug, grinning from ear to ear.  “What the hell was that?”  T was about six foot seven with long blond hair, and guitar played hands.  He was always in a good mood.  He was always in a better mood than anyone else in the room.  He had seen us pass him, but the narrow road did not allow him to turn around fast enough.

         We spent one night there.  Spicy food, shrimp, rice, sauteed vegetables, easy music, an almost crawling baby girl, one huge spider on the wall, and ten little ones in the shower.  Photographs hung on the mirror in the bedroom.  Most I remember had T with a huge grin and his arm wrapped around a pretty blonde.  The shadows of half finished Heinekens lightened as the night went on.  The silence that came as we all fell asleep was bellowed out continually by the sound of trucks passing by.

         In the morning it was even more apparent that the New York we had left, not intending to return to in any short amount of time, was gone.  The dark of the night before had hidden the valley that T’s apartment looked out over.  The rain from the night before left the Winnie in a huge puddle of water.  We placed ourselves in the world, accepting that it didn’t have to exist anymore.  Accepting that we didn’t have to remember that it might have at one time.  Nothing much mattered.  Except that air.

         It was a four hour ride to Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Eventually we got there.  The Amusement park was packed with people.  B pulled the Winnie into a camping spot at the top of the hill.  We had a short time to cook something quick and begin walking to the concert.  Pasta salad with an array of spices was put into handy Tupperware containers, backpacks strapped on, water inside.  M put the baby into the carrier on B’s back.  She immediately grabbed onto her father’s long blond hair.  But she didn’t pull, her big blue eyes just smiled.

         The concert arena was packed, but it was outside so it didn’t seem so full.  There was fresh air.  Good people.  Songs that disappeared and reemerged in another time.  They waved their arms and danced.  It all seemed constant.  Unmovable.  It all seemed like breathing.  I can’t speak of the music, other than the reaction to it.  I wasn’t familiar with it.  I remember that night.  I remember a thousand ants.  With nothing to do but breathe.  In constant motion.  When the concert ended everyone swarmed over a field, back to another place. 

         We walked along the highway.  It was busier than before.  It was darker than before.  All of the front yards we attempted to walk through were small rolling hills and difficult to stay on.  Somewhere along the highway was an unseen golf course.  Like a surreal dream.  For reasons I do not reasons we walked through that golf course.  Maybe we thought it was safer.  Eventually we climbed up the rocks leading back to the highway.  Maybe it was a full moon, I don’t remember.  Maybe places like that can’t exist without a certain kind of lighting.  Maybe I don’t remember it at all.  Maybe we were all in constant motion.  Maybe that small golf course is the only reason why I remember that night.  Maybe crossing the street and walking alongside a dark field of corn brought me to my senses.  Maybe I didn’t have any senses. 

         The next morning we all piled into T’s white station wagon.  Which I now realize was only a tan, Toyota Tercel.  A day in the park.  Someone always had to stay behind with the baby.  Around two P.M., T and I decided to wait on the ridiculously long line for the ridiculously short roller coaster ride.  M and B would meet us in about an hour, at the end of the ride.  For an hour T and I waited online.  Listening to the others around us talk.  Ridiculous people.  We hardly said anything.  Perpetual silence.  A habit of listening.  Shutting down.  Waiting.

         Two hour and a half later, T and I stood in the middle of the park, waiting for M and B.  We had walked around for about an hour.  The park was supposed to close in thirty minutes.  Whatever was said, or whatever had happened, or whatever reasons M and B had for walking out to the car to wait, do not matter.  They are not what I remember.  What I remember is T’s six foot seven, long-haired figure turning to me and saying, “I can take this for three days, but I don’t know if I could take it for three weeks Pam.”  I had never seen T mad or frustrated before that hour, nor have I ever seen him so since. 

         They were good people.  M, B, and the baby had seen a rainbow, chased butterflies, and relaxed by the car.  They, too, might have been ridiculous people.  But they hadn’t waited on line for an hour in perpetual silence.  We were the ones that waited on line for an hour.  We hadn’t seen a rainbow.  We had chased two people who were already gone.  We had stopped to drink chocolate milk.  We, too, might have been ridiculous people.  Maybe the world was ridiculous. 

         T drove back to his four white boxes.  M, B, the baby and I continued on to Seattle, Washington.  Another somewhere that was twenty-eight days away.

         What T said that day in the park echoed in my head for months.  Even after I had left B and M to return to the New York I had never really left behind.  Not until recently did I accept that it wasn’t them that I couldn’t take that made me leave.  It was my placement in an attempt to escape something I had not left.  It was my placement in a world that was so deeply rooted, unbloomed, and unclosed in my mind.  Like the silence after so much echoing chaos. Like the trend that had begun months before, that I embedded in my life so I didn’t have to realize myself.  Breathing. 

         Maybe I left too soon.  Maybe I just walked away.  Maybe I couldn’t accept leaving an old recreated world.  Maybe I was just ridiculous.  I think back on that month of constant motion that turned into a year of a constant somewhere else.  And I think of what T first said.  “What the hell was that?”  Arms stretched wide open in an enormous shrug.  Grinning from ear to ear. 

Bear Country

We were halfway up a mountain at ten P.M..  We were in bear country. And just as we passed that sign, the engine stopped.  The silence was, what I didn’t understand until that moment, deafening.  B tried to turn the engine- nothing.  Just more silence.  I looked for the flashlights.  B opened the engine hatch.  M took the baby out of the car seat.  Her and I stepped outside.  “That sign said bear country...”  M just looked at me.

“B, I’m going to put rocks behind the wheels.” “Yeah.  M, take more blankets to wrap her in.”  He was a blond haired hippie.  She had long, dark ringlets.  The baby had his eyes, her hair.  And right then, we were all in bear country.

A river of curses came out of B’s mouth.  Immediate apologies.  “We probably shouldn’t even be up here in this thing... Why do I do shit like this?”  In the year and a half that I had known him, I had never seen him angered.  He had always been high.  Even when he had put the skylights in backwards.  Still, he was good people.  She was good people.  Even in bear country.

Twenty-four hours before we were in Denver, staring at the continental divide.  The metaphor of the purpose of thirty-one days.  And of where we were supposed to end up- on the other side of it all.   And now we were trying to get over that divide- trying to spend just one night on top of it.  And now we were in bear country.  Two hippies- their blue eyes, ringlet haired baby- and me.   

A ranger came by chance, closing the gates for the night.  He explained about engine freeze.  We just had to wait.  In bear country.  At ten P.M.. He’d be right back.  In that short time the drugs and paraphernalia were put away.  When he returned the engine had turned.  M, the baby, and I piled into the ranger’s truck.  B followed in the thirty year old Winnebago.  “I’ll lead you to a nice spot, where in the morning it will just take your breath away.”  The ranger told us he’d be back in the morning to see how things were with the Winnebago.  He knew someone in town if anything needed to be fixed.

We settled in.  The kitchen table collapsed into a makeshift crib.  Her name meant star.  And she was sound asleep.  Unaware that she was in bear country.  

The three of us with no where else to be except atop the continental divide in a thirty year old Winnebago climbed onto the roof with blankets.  They spoke about the milky way in school, but never explained how it would look that night.  How could they?  The smell of clean air, crisp air, free air.  And of course, as always, the smell of burning marijuana.  

M had laid the pipe down on the blanket.  I don’t remember now how much time did or didn’t pass.  But with all of its beauty, the sky was still too cold to sleep under in autumn.  I threw the blankets to the ground without any of us thinking about it and we climbed down.  M’s glass pipe that she had affectionately named “Sherlock” was in those blankets.  It was then broken.  In bear country.  She spent the next two show’s parking lot scenes looks for his replacement.  

In the morning the altitude and my allergies had completely taken control of my lungs.  It was the hay in Topeka.  I hate Kansas.  But at B’s suggestion, “You need to just shake it out of you.”  M, the baby, and I began to climb a mountain.  

The path didn’t lead to the top.  But the state had put a bench just below it.  And so we sat there.  And caught our breath.  And with the responsibility of a baby in bear country.  And the responsibly of breathing we had no other choice, but to point and say amazing, and head back down.

We spent two nights there.  B commented on the beautiful stream with it’s 7-up can... “filthy human beings.”  We played chess at night and wound up with just our two kings on the board- I don’t remember how.  And he was always high.  Wild turkeys and the far away desert like landscape.  Burning sage and a baby with cleansing ashes on her forehead.  She almost learned to crawl on that mountain.  It was fall on the mountain.  Everything was changing.

In New Mexico the next morning we put out things into boxes and shipped them to Seattle.  To lessen the load.  Maybe to prevent engine freeze- obvious that none of us had been paying much attention to the ranger in bear country.  B wanted to leave.  M wanted to put things away with the room that had been made.  The baby, left unattended in our box taping and address labeling, had shifted in her chair and fallen.  That was the first time I had seen M cry since leaving New York.  B hadn’t seen.  And so we left the small town at the border of bear country.  And headed for the stale heat and Arizona.

They headed for the music, the search for another “Sherlock,” and the suburbs of Seattle.  I headed for someplace where I could breathe.  I wouldn’t know until a parking lot in Santa Monica after a movie whose ticket I still hold, that I would cross those mountains again so soon.  But after bear country all I remember are quotes and images of those days. 

The gas cap and all of the keys left somewhere in New Mexico.  “I mean man, I’m thirty years old and man, I don’t know what I want yet.”  The Phoenix show.  I wrote letters.  I called New York.  An old lady with yellow balloons and grateful dead memories.  The feel of a real bed, of a real shower, of air conditioning in stale heat.  Signs that read “WARNING: Flash Floods!”  “Through L.A.? Or north of it?”  The Pacific Ocean.  The climb.  The search for a payphone.  The rich woman with the small dog, who wouldn’t look me in the eye- the tie-dyed shirt was all she saw.  “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”  The dipstick left somewhere in eastern California.  The decision to see a movie.  The telephone call.  The kids in the parking lot throwing toilet paper, shaving cream, eggs on what I remember as a vintage blue Mustang.  “I mean, we’re in California.  How amazing is that?  And the thing is, there’s not a thing that I miss in New York.”  M sitting next to me on a curb.

I hadn’t replied.  I still don’t know if she expected me to.  I still don’t know if she saw my eyes tearing.  She climbed into the thirty year old Winnebago without saying anything else.  That was unlike her.  They guy who owned the mustang chased those kids down in the parking lot.  They sped away.  I don’t remember what kind of car.  I don’t remember getting up from the curb.

In the Redwoods we climbed over another mountain, across a desert like beach.  “That sign said bear country.”  M just smiled at me.  I still couldn’t breathe.  We saw the bear tracks in the sand.  I had to laugh too.

That night, a full meal, fresh picked berries from the desert bear country, a campfire, the smell of burning marijuana, easy conversation.  M and I walked to see the moon.  Drunk on wine I told M that I was going home when we got to Seattle.  I don’t remember the reasons I told her.

Maybe it was because everywhere had had a sign- “Bear Country.”  Maybe it was because home didn’t.  I don’t remember telling her that I still couldn’t breathe.

 Three Times and Breathing 

There are three times in my life that I do not remember waking up from.

This is the first.

She traveled for thirty-one days total that fall.  One week before they left for a different coast, she sat on a silver beach watching a pale blue sunrise, chemicals racing through every bloodstream.  She looked next to her at the father of her friend’s baby girl.  “I have this incredible feeling that this is going to be such an amazing year.”  He just smiled.

Twenty-eight days after they set off, she sent herself back.

It was late autumn.  She had come back on that train on a full moon’s night and early into the morning.  Everything outside of the train had been as bright as day, as if the sun and moon agreed on sharing the world for those nights.  The world at those moments, was all hers.

She sat.  Motionless.  And she thought, without necessarily wanting to.

At this point in her life, the things people had said to her kept repeating in her mind, even for weeks after.  People she had seen and had not touched she remembered now, weeks later.  And she wondered if they were looking at the world under the full moon then too.

The train slowed and she turned her attention to the motions within the train.  An old man was staring blankly at the back of the seat in front of him, as if his life were being played back to him between that space.  Two women had fallen asleep to the sound of a broken up radio station.  A young college student was sifting through his biology book, not really glancing at any of the pages.

A voice came over the speaker announcing that the train had arrived in Rugby, North Dakota- the center of North America.  The center of some million lives.  And still, nothing at all.

She noticed how silver the inside of the train looked at that moment.  And how still all of the figures it held seemed.  The air whispered, “get me home safe.”  She turned back towards the window as the train began to move, the swaying of the train around her was rocking her to some safe place.  And she thought about how silver the place that she had just left had been.  And wondered what color the sunsets were there.  She had not seen one.  And for some reason now thought that if she had, she might not have been so sure about leaving.

She did not know if she wanted to get home safe.

She stood up and walked down the stairs of the train to the bathrooms.  They were rooms about three feet by two feet, which made the mirror seems enormous.  She caught her own eyes in the mirror, almost surprised that she had an image to mirror.  She closed the door, still staring into the mirror.  She stared into her own eyes, and noticed the array of colors within them.  A sudden feeling of apathy for what those eyes had seen came into her veins.

She had not really noticed the past few weeks happening.  Although she had kept a daily journal of all of it, none of it seemed reasonable to have occurred.  And she had not looked at herself in the mirror much in those weeks.  If she had it was to wash her face, barely acknowledging that she had one.

She opened the bathroom door and went to her bags to get out the loaf of bread she had purchased before departing two nights before.  It seemed as though she were going through another person’s possessions.  It seemed as though she had nothing.  She took a piece of bread and headed back to her seat.

The night was becoming morning.  And she had not slept.  She had not slept because she did not want to dream.  She had seen much of the country.  It now seemed as though her memory of it all was one long silent film.  It might have seemed boring to anyone else, but to her it had been, and still was filling.

It was then that she thought of time.  She opened her leather pouch and took out the pocket watch her brother had built and given to her.  Two A.M.  The ticking reminded her of what her house sounded like during the years her oldest brother had begun to fix clocks, until he had moved out.  Most people don’t notice the sound of trains rushing through their towns.  She had never noticed the ticking, until now- hearing it again and feeling as though her body were suddenly fixed to that consistency.

As if that ticking were leading her home.

Home.  For weeks she had only slightly missed home.  Only slightly missed the feel of the walls that held an aged family.  The way the house was never completely renovated.  The sound of her parents getting older in the living room over all of the years.  The porch swings.  All of those things and so many more were the reasons she had left.  And the reasons why it was home.  

She rested her head against her chair and closed her eyes.  She always wondered if the world stopped when she did this.  She had hoped so many times that when she opened her eyes she would understand such things.

Her parents had asked her over the phone just a few days before if she felt she had grown up some.  She hadn’t replied.  She hadn’t had time, the quarter fell through the payphone and then they were gone.

And at the moment all she felt was immense peace.  And incredible loss. 

Home might mean that she would be expected to do something with those feelings.  Home might mean that she would need to get past all of that.  And for the first time in a very long time, she thought she didn’t want to get past any of it.

Her past still felt as though someone else’s story had become her own.  That she, in fact, might never have had a history at all.  That the boring silent film now playing in her head was a series of the lives of everyone on that train with her that night- all put into one.

And at the moment they were keeping her company.

She hadn’t spoken to anyone in two days.  She hadn’t eaten much in two days.  And she hadn’t dreamed much in two days either.

For hours she sat.  Motionless.  It might have been argued whether or not she had been breathing the entire time.

That is the second.

The third is a funeral.  

There are three times in my life that I do not remember waking up from.  I did get home safe though.  The immense peace, the incredible loss, the ticking, the inevitable weight of these things- I am still breathing.

But Let Me Go

“I believe in angels because of him.  He was calm.  Cool.  Incredible.  My best friend’s father.  “If you ever need anything kid- just call.”  He stood in the doorway.  Skinny.  Lung Cancer.  He told amazing stories.  Crazy stories.  One morning he fell.  One night I got a phone call.  Plastic world.  “Let it be, let it be... whisper words of wisdom...” This song was played one afternoon.

I could write these words a thousand times and still not comprehend his being gone.

The image of her mother shaking.  The image of his wife getting up from the church to stand outside.  The image of her taking deep breaths, never deep enough.  Of her mother greeting guests at a wake.  Of his wife sitting next to her children, him not there.  Of her holding a railing out side of the church on a cold December afternoon.  Of her mother saying, “It’s all right guys, don’t be sad, it’s all right.”  Of his wife putting pictures into frames, as though she might forget if it weren’t done in time.  The image of her left alone, unable to stand.

The image of her brother holding her hand.  The image of his son standing proud and tall at the front of the wake.  The image of his face when his best friend arrived at the wake.  Of her brother repeating things that their father had said.  Of his son reading lines at the funeral, which I cannot remember.  Of the way his shoulders relaxed when he hugged his friend, and began to cry.  Of her brother’s stern face when he walked out of the church.  Of his son putting his hand on his mother’s shoulder, and squeezing.  The image of him standing, in the shadow of his father. 

The image of my best friend staring down at the table.  The image of his daughter sitting in the back at the wake.  The image of her squeezing our hands.  Of my best friend sitting between her mother and brother at the front of the church.  Of his daughter watching Sherlock Holmes movies.  Of her smoking half a cigarette and then throwing it away, nothing having to be said.  Of my best friend needing to fall apart at the seams.  Of his daughter making her own bagel on Sunday mornings.  The image of her writing down the words, “I need an explanation.”

The image of the distance between her and I after one cold December afternoon.  I knew her too well.  And maybe we both had our explanations.  Maybe she was terrified of what they were.  Of what she’d become in the short time after.  She told me to picture being on a train.  To picture another train across from me.  To picture it moving- “and you’re not, but you feel like you’re in motion...”  That was how she felt.  A constant urge to stare.  To not process anything.  To let the world move on.  To sink with everything that was slowly slipping.  To not believe in this.  And then she asked me, “Do you believe in God?... Cause you said you believed in angels.”  The image of her outline against a pale blue sunset.  The image of her on a train.  Sinking.

The image of picture now hanging on the walls.  A little girl and her father- asleep on the couch in the afternoon.  And then a young woman and her father all dressed up, her head tilted into his chest, her arms around his waist, the same calmness in their shoulders.  A father and son in the kitchen- it was Christmas time, you can still remember because of the sweaters they wear, the same smile.  A husband and wife in the spring, hands around his waist, arm draped over her shoulders.  He had the ability to calm her- always.  

The image of the newspaper.  Time magazine.  Sports radio on throughout the house.  Sunday morning bagels.  Loud music.  The record collection.  The porch furniture, a Budweiser on the wicker table.  Oil lamps.  A nightcap of Jack Daniels.  A big Bronco.  The Kinks wheel cover.  White high-tops.  A slight limp.  Answers to T.V. game shows.  The Sherlock Holmes collection.  The scarf and the gloves.

The image of my best friend’s father putting his hand on his daughter’s chin.  “A face that could launch a thousand ships... I love it.”  Of her speaking seriously about something, and him tilting his head upside down, “Well, look at it this way Meg.”  The image of him leaving the light on in the hall since she was a little girl, so she could stay up and read.

The image of the words people said.  “He sat in the back of the church, never saying anything- quiet Gil, every Sunday... when I went to see him in the hospital he said, “So I guess this is a bad sign- when you start coming to see me.”...”  “His parents died when he was ten, but he never let that phase him.  He has a loving wife, and two amazing children.”  “He worked at the bookstore for fifteen years.”  “He was 46 years old.” “... “That man should take his hat off in church...”...  “Mom, that’s their neighbor, Timmy... and I don’t think Gil would mind.”...” “Remember me... but let me go.”

The image of the words running through my mind.  “If you ever need anything kid- just call.”  Calm.  Cool.  Incredible.  My best friend’s father.  “If you ever need anything kid- just call.”  Standing in the doorway.  Skinny.  Lung cancer.  “If you ever need anything kid- just call.”  Amazing stories.  Crazy stories.  “If you ever need anything kid- just call.”  One morning.  One night.  Plastic world. “Let it be, let it be... whisper words of wisdom...” Meghan Roe.  This song was played on a cold December afternoon.  “If you ever need anything kid- just call.”

I could write these words a thousand times and still not comprehend your being gone.

“There will be an answer... let it be...”  This song was played during a funeral procession on a cold December afternoon.  “If you ever need anything kid- just call.”

 You Won’t Always

She stepped outside of that bookstore on the avenue.  All she had meant to do was take in the newspapers, but that light breeze made her trip over her memories.  The sound of the flag blowing in that breeze in the center of town.  The ease of that breeze into her lungs.  The sound of nothing but a certain energy in the air.  All of it and she was back on that porch that summer.  Those days. 

M’s baby was sleeping inside of the cottage.  They were sitting on the picnic table that barely fit in the corner of that porch.  Paints and brushes were what had started it.  Or maybe it was the day.

She laughed at what this must look like to the people across the canal.  Two ragged teenagers watching a baby, a huge tie-dyed sheet handing to block the sun, two huge ice teas (one barely touched, one almost empty), old beer cans, a keg that had been sitting there for weeks, and now add the paints.  Then add the breeze.

“If they only knew.”

“We’re going to write a book one day.”

“Do you think any of this will ever change?”

“One day we’ll blink and this will all have been a dream.”


“Dinosaur sex.”

“That building in Montauk.”

“A boat.”

“She’s not crying.  I hope she’s not dead.”

“I feel like cleaning. I like sweeping.  That was the best part of that job.  Cleaning.”

“Does this look like a boat?”

“You know what we’re waiting for Clyde?”

“What if it doesn’t?”

“Remember running?”

“The funny thing is.”

“I keep holding this pen like a cigarette.”

“Do you want one? M’s are inside.”

“I’m getting a Heineken.”

“I think she’s up.”

“Think M would be mad if we painted her?”


Maybe it was the day.  Maybe it was everyday.  That essence.  That possession of essence.  That everything was relevant.  And nothing was left unexplained.  But nothing spoken.

Maybe they couldn’t leave it.  Because there was always that fear that it wasn’t over yet.

She picked up that stack of New York Times and looked down on that day from a bird’s view.  And she saw what the rest of the world would have seen.  She knew she never wanted to not be sitting on that porch on that day again.  She heard this unmistakable ticking.  And then a baby’s cry.

They were still waiting for an explanation.  And maybe if they made themselves believe there wasn’t one, it would come out of resistance- to exist for that resistance.

“Do you think God wears Nikes?”

“Stop you clowns.”


She heard the unmistakable sound of laughter.  When she looked up she saw a group of teenagers getting into a car.  Fighting for the front seat.

“We’ll never be able to do that again.”

“He would love to be able to sit there and write that stupid report.”

“Do you think they know?”

“The problem with the world is that you can’t just scream really loudly.  There should be somewhere.”

Were we that young.  Or was it that distinct.  She got a sudden chill down her spine and walked back inside to cut the dates off of twenty-seven papers.

It was beautiful.  She thought she might cry.  And then she noticed the knife in her hand.  The dates.  And the words imprinted on her wrist.

Oh right… an explanation.

How much blood had passed through that wrist.  How long would that last.

“If they only knew.”

“You won’t always feel like this.”

She wasn’t sure what she was without all of it.  If the remnants weren’t there where would she place herself.

All she had meant to do was take in the newspapers.

And breathe.

 The Difference of Sooner

I can’t take this back.  I can’t make this plane not take off.  And then it hit me.

I wouldn’t have been there if I had gone to the doctor sooner.  The doctor would have told me take two weeks off.  He wouldn’t have told me on the phone to Baltimore that the X-rays showed a stress fracture.  He wouldn’t have said eight weeks.  That wouldn’t have been the rest of my senior year.  Rick, my club coach, wouldn’t have turned to me after the tournament and asked, “Are you okay?”  I wouldn’t have spent twelve straight hours throwing up every emotion.  If I had gone to the doctor sooner I would have taken a spot on the Division I team.  I would have major in physical therapy.  I wouldn’t have had to go three times a week to see a physical therapist.  I wouldn’t have changed my mind.  I wouldn’t have stopped going to the school team practices and games.  I would have done more than sit on the sidelines of the club team.  Maybe, somehow, “it would begin to matter enough.”  Maybe Rick’s words would have hit before, and not because of the magnitude of changes.  I wouldn’t have changed my mind about the definition of “importance.”  I wouldn’t have decided that it wasn’t for me.  I wouldn’t have waited so long to speak up about that decision.  I wouldn’t have said I didn’t want to play.  I wouldn’t have waited to call the coach who had known me so long.  I wouldn’t have waited until mid-summer.  I would have been in pre-season.  I wouldn’t have been sitting at their house.  I wouldn’t have listened to, “well, why don’t you come to Seattle with us then... since you don’t know.”  I wouldn’t have told them the way that I did.  I wouldn’t have told them that I didn’t owe them anything.  I wouldn’t have spent the summer fighting with them.  I wouldn’t have gotten that job at that summer restaurant.  I wouldn’t have spent the rest of the summer drunk.  I wouldn’t have called him to say good-bye.  I wouldn’t have left without closure.  I wouldn’t have left with the wrong people.  I wouldn’t have come home so soon.  I wouldn’t have changed my mind.  Again.  I wouldn’t have not known how to explain it to them.  I wouldn’t have not said, “I am okay.  I will be okay.”  I wouldn’t have called him after so long.  I wouldn’t have gone on that walk.  I wouldn’t have slept with him.  I wouldn’t have just stopped calling.  I wouldn’t have made the decision to leave again.  I wouldn’t have lost touch with my right arm.  I would have told her I was sorry for leaving. Sooner.  Maybe I wouldn’t have left when I saw the look in her eyes.  I wouldn’t have felt so out of place.  I wouldn’t have needed seventy hours of working a week.  I wouldn’t have been readmitted to that school so far away.  I would have been more comfortable staying in my own skin.  Maybe.  I wouldn’t have not visited his grave.  I would have told him, “Thank-you.”  I wouldn’t have gotten those words imprinted on my wrist.  I wouldn’t have gotten on that plane.  I wouldn’t have spent one week at a school I didn’t want to be at.  I wouldn’t have left so soon.  Again.  I wouldn’t have spent that week arguing with them.  Again.  I wouldn’t have called my brother.  I wouldn’t have heard the words, “Come here, and then you can figure it out.”  I wouldn’t have gone.  I wouldn’t have spent two hours on the phone trying to prove that I didn’t owe them anything.  Again.  I wouldn’t have spent five months in Delaware.  I wouldn’t have moved into my own pink house.  I wouldn’t have decided that it was perfect, but it wasn’t home.  I wouldn’t have left.  Again.  I wouldn’t have gotten lost in New Jersey at two A.M. driving home.  I wouldn’t have felt what needing security, safety, being helpless at two A.M. in the rain was.  I would have told them, “I’m sorry, but I needed all of this.”  I wouldn’t have called Mike again.  I wouldn’t have slept with him.  Again.  I would have told my right arm that I was sorry for leaving.  I wouldn’t have waited for her to say, “It’s okay.  I know you had to, but still I am torn.”  I would have told her I knew the feeling.

I couldn’t take back no looking her in the eye.  I couldn’t take back leaving.  I couldn’t take back the brush of his hand that night.  I couldn’t take back the dialed numbers.  I couldn’t take back not saying thank-you to them.  I couldn’t take back not saying I’m sorry to them.  I couldn’t take back not visiting my brother more.  I couldn’t take back not knowing the way home.  I couldn’t take back the instant of knowing what kind of life I wanted.  I couldn’t take back the attachments to a somewhere else.  I couldn’t take back not saying, “Maybe I do owe you something, but right now I need time.”  I couldn’t take back only calling my brother once, helpless.  I couldn’t take back flying into Baltimore.  I couldn’t take back leaving.  Again.  I couldn’t make it November again.  I couldn’t take back the decision.  I couldn’t take back the acceptance of that school.  I couldn’t take back the imprinted words.  I couldn’t take back letting her go beyond arms reach.  I couldn’t take back the anxiousness.  I couldn’t take back the solitude.  I couldn’t take back calling him.  Again.  I couldn’t take back seventy-hour weeks.  I couldn’t take back the walk at night around the block.  I couldn’t take back holding his hand.  I couldn’t take back that night.  I couldn’t take back the letter.  I couldn’t take back leaving.  Again.  I couldn’t take back not saying, “Mom, Dad Thank-you.”  I couldn’t take back not saying, “Mom, Dad I’m sorry.”  I couldn’t take back saying yes to the wrong people.  I couldn’t take back a few thousand dollars lost.  I couldn’t take back taking that job.  I couldn’t take back being drunk for a whole summer.  I couldn’t take back lost scholarships.  I couldn’t take back giving up on a second chance.  I couldn’t take back avoiding eye contact with my coach.  I couldn’t take back letting the memories race through my head.  I couldn’t take back beginning to cry.  I couldn’t take back beginning to cry in front of him after it wasn’t all lost.  I couldn’t take back three hour practices.  I couldn’t take back sticking with that team.  I couldn’t take back giving up on the other.  I couldn’t take back not making a single decision.  I couldn’t take back not saying, “No, I’m not okay.”  I couldn’t take back not going to the doctor sooner.  I couldn’t make it April again.

I can’t take this back.  I can’t make this plane not take off.  That’s when it hit me.  “No, I’m not okay.”

 Loosen the Docks

Maybe that night I should have known to stop.  Waking up with the roof only eight inches above my head.  Always waking up so slowly.  Always realizing the other people around me.  Unable to absorb that.  Maybe I should have smoked more.  Drank more.  Maybe I should have danced more.  

But that wasn’t me.  And neither is this.  And things do change.  And it was beautiful.  

There were only two nights that I could feel the van rocking.  The two kinds of loneliness in this world crept in in different forms.  They were quiet.  They were six, maybe seven feet away.  Their baby was sleeping.  On my side of the curtain there was no baby.  No pushing.  No holding.  No noises to not make.  Me.  Eight inches.  And an oversized pair of headphones.  I’ve been lonely all my life.  

Before, the things we talked about weren’t so random.  M could talk about politics and what was wrong with the world.  We rarely had those conversations though.  I don’t know enough to talk politics.  I honestly don’t know what I ever said to her.  But maybe she needed that.  An ear and not a voice.  A look in the eyes and not too much.  M talked about going to England with JK for a few months.  About taking a semester off from school and just going.  I never knew her to get into fights with her father before that night.  I made it halfway up the stairs and heard them yelling.  I just waited for her to come out.  Five minutes later I watched her cry at sunset on the dock.  

The dock.  So many words have been said at that dock.  So much of what I remember my youth beyond bicycles was spoken about on that dock.  So many of the people beyond the bicycles cried at that dock.  When I was younger the dock seemed so so far away.  Docks are funny things.  Versatile things.  Day and night and morning things.  A simple beach wouldn’t have done.  The planks changed things.  Maybe they kept us from sinking.  

M was funny about things with me.  She never seemed comfortable around me with the person she was dating.  Or around the person I was dating.  Whoever it was.  Whatever the time.  She once told Meghan that C “wasn’t what I needed.”  She had only met him once.  And I hadn’t seen much of her that year.  M almost dated my brother.  M dated Danny’s best friend Bryan.  In the few years that M and I were close I learned a lot about why M did the things she did, and with the people she did them with. 

M and I were close.  Neither of us had to really say anything.  There were nights when we would just drive around.  Some nights that we would just sit.  M is four years older than me.  I was fourteen when we became friends.  Twenty when we stopped saying anything at all.  

M worked at the restaurant in the summer.  It was a whole different world than what I knew.   I never went there.  Not once.  Never thought to either.  She would write letters about how much she hated it.  But there was something about those summers.  People who have grown up with the water have a tradition with summers.  Things don’t change.  That last summer I didn’t see or hear much from M.  She had known B from many years.  He had been gone for a while, out in Washington somewhere.  She hadn’t told me about B.  Maybe I went over unannounced one day and he happened to be there.  The look on her face told me who he was.  I guess the comfort never did really sink in.  And it’s funny now, because I used to say that I wished they could make replicas of B.  Because he was a great guy.  He was good for her.  B was separate from the rest.  He didn’t have to cry in order to breathe.  

When M got pregnant more than one person said that it might be good for her, be what she needed at that point in her life.  These people M would on occasion say she despised.  We say that about a lot of people.  About people we shouldn’t say that about.  One such person bought the baby a Bruce Springstein album for her first birthday.  She too, almost dated my brother.   M’s mother told her she “wasn’t exactly planned either.”  

M was funny about things.  Big decisions were made about which towels to buy.  In a short time she started to make her own skirts.  And pants.  And a bag.  That fall I think it was she started to string beads through the wire on window screens.  She drew a crescent moon one summer, while she was working at the restaurant.  She wrote on it who she missed.  The window screen reminded me of that.  

M used to write to me from college.  Mostly one graph paper.  And mostly about how she hated it.  I still have the letters.  And the notebooks.  I still have the memories.  Andy, in a roundabout way, asked me if I hated her.  I don’t.  I don’t think things could have turned out differently.  People use each other every day.  

A week before I decided to leave with M and B I hadn’t been speaking to M.  I don’t remember why.  Maybe it was the feeling that I got around M during the summer.  A week later I simply said yes.  A week later M got me a job at that restaurant.  A week later it wasn’t a different world.  A week later everything else just disappeared.  

I knew I wasn’t going to stay in Washington with them when we were in the Ozarks.  When we were in Kansas.  In Colorado.  New Mexico.  Parts of Arizona changed my mind.  And then changed it again.  In Joshua Tree I knew what I wasn’t ready for.  And I didn’t want to do this.  That.  Be there.  In Santa Monica when I cried and M just walked away.  I wasn’t ready for that.  None of the people that had shared those docks with me and in my memories had ever just gotten up and gone away.  

At a small trailer park in Oregon, we had snuck in after the guard had gone home and snuck out before he came back in the morning.  I walked in the dark to go wash my face.  I was terrified.  The florescent lights in the bathrooms of state parks change the world to unreal.  As if the blackness of that night without a neighboring city to light the sky was fake.  

That night I felt the van rocking.  That night I felt alone.  

I’m losing memories from that month.  And I can’t picture M’s face.  M and B got married last September.  On the beach.  I wasn’t invited.  Meghan said it was a nice ceremony.  Last I heard B was mad because I used his name in a few short stories I had written about that month.  And I know M.  M wouldn’t call.  I never meant to hurt anyone.  That month.  Those decisions.  But maybe M knew before we left that I’d come back.  But maybe she wished she was wrong.  M did know me.  Things would have been different for all of us if I had stayed in Washington with them.  

I have pictures of the beautiful sunsets and sunrises and trees and mountains we saw hanging on the wall next to my bed.  Because they are beautiful.  If I don’t write it down.  If I don’t look at the pictures. I might forget.  

It was only a month.   They are only pictures.  These are only words.  There was a dock in Des Moines that we walked down.  The water was crystal clear and the mountains on the other side of the sound were beautiful.  And there were fish swimming.  And crabs walking.  And M asked me if I was sure I still wanted to leave.  I remember the signs for a big Halloween scare house at the park next to that dock.  That water was clear.  Crystal clear.  

Maybe I should have known to stop.  To go home earlier.  To not take so much with me.  To not feel so much.  To give in.  To not sink.  Maybe I should have known.  I won’t say I shouldn’t have left.  I’ve been lonely all my life.  And I’ve never learned how to be lonely.  M had.  M knows.  M knows a thousand oceans brought me home.  

And maybe she remembers the bonfire we talked about.  To burn all of our past.  With everything.  To loosen the docks.  To sail away.  But maybe she hadn’t seen me crying that night in Santa Monica.    

But that wasn’t me.  And neither is this.  And things do change.  And it was beautiful.  

 Above All Things

That extra step at the top of the stairs that we sometimes all take.  That split second halt of reaction before stepping on the brakes.  That drop of the heart to the floors at the unexpected.  That step onto a plane and the man who whispered, “Look at all of these people, not knowing they’re going to die soon.”  He was only kidding, and it was before things had changed, your heart repositioned itself to its former place, your car did stop before hitting another, the floor at the top of the stairs made sturdy your miscalculation.  We could all slip and fall and be gone.  And what then of what is left of us?  

To Danny I would leave strength.  To not punch holes in walls.  To find a door jamb if necessary.  To know that he more than potential.  To know that the spinning will stop- it’s just a matter of time.  To know that he is just a kid, until he gets on that train.  To realize it’s himself staring back in the mirror- and that is all in the past now.  To know that if the big idea is a sphere and not a square- it will keep rolling.  The strength to see that he, just like everyone else, is in the B movie.

To Michelle I would leave hope.  That which she once said she was jealous of.  Memories of quotes from her adolescence- lest she forget when her own daughter is that age.  An untouched Signet edition of War and Peace.  A Vintage The Fountainhead.  To realize that physical places are merely spaces in your mind.  That air is in your lungs- not in your adventures.  To know that you are your environment.  To tell her that I know what leaving means.  Meant.  To remind her that she, like I, wore all black once too.  To remind her that it’s not her fault.  The hope to see that she, just like everyone else, is searching.

To Emily I would leave a silver clown.  To realize that when all else fails, do what she has always done- laugh.  To know that she will be okay.  To remind her that things go in circles.  To tell her that she doesn’t have to answer any questions.  To let her know that the people that surround her are amazed by her.  To let her know that, she too, is more than potential.  The ability to fight off demons. To fight off the shadows of clowns on the ceiling.  My silver clown, that would remind her to, if all else fails, dance.

To Meghan I would leave a train ticket.  So that maybe she might let herself be moved. To know that the one thing that her father was incapable of was being forgotten.  To know that the spinning will stop- it’s just a matter of time.  To realize that she is not as delicate as she thinks.  To know that she is amazing.  To know that this world that we think we all live in is going to change.  To know that she doesn’t have to.  A train ticket, lest she forget where she’s going.  Where she could go.

To Brian I would leave the words “I love you.”  To realize that sometimes you have to take in how other people give to you.  To know that this is not a compromise, but a necessary human awareness.  That some have come further than others, even those who have always been there.  To know that this says nothing about us, or them.  To know that those words made me cry.  To feel gratitude in every word.  To know that I hear ticking and feel at home.  To know that of all people, I know the best in you is still yet to be given.  The sound of the words, without reservation, “I love you.” 

To Timothy I would leave a small snow globe.  To realize that worlds exist where you create them.  To know that behind ever joke was, is, and will be a space of wondering.  To understand the distance.  To break from it.  To know that portraits of a life lived wandering can only be beautiful.  To sit back and just listen to the sound of the beating hearts around you.  To know that you are loved.  A small snow globe, to remind you of changes in this life.

To Erick I would leave a bottle of red wine.  To know that the world will not change from the state that he sees it in, until he backs away.  To accept.  To know that definite terms do not have to apply to things in life.  To know that he will do just fine with anything he does.  To know that he too, is a teacher.  To realize that I have always thought of you as something more than a brother, more than a friend, maybe a faraway touch stone.  To know I never let them say anything about you.  To know that they don’t know you.  A bottle of red wine, that like he, only gets better over time.

To my mother I would leave peace.  To know that people have to love you for their own reasons.  To know that not everyone will love you for the reasons you think they should.  To know that the world spins on an axis, and that season change.  To know that this means more than she will ever realize.  To know that I know she only ever missed one game.  To know that the phrase, “Don’t mess with my kids, “ has stuck with me always.  To know that on off days I realize I don’t know anything about you.  To know that I thought you were never there when I needed you.  To know that I thought you were always there when I didn’t need you.  To know I was wrong.  A peace in her life to let her, when all else fails, move on.  

To my father I would leave a red cap with “Daddy’s Little Girl” silk-screened on it.  To know that I never allowed myself to be that to him.  To know that I know I was, and am, that to him.  To believe that he has ingrained the best in his children.  To know that we would never go too far from him.  To know that the strength in laughter is one thing that will never leave me.  To know that on off days I realize I don’t know anything about you.  To know that I thought you were never there when I needed you.  To know that I thought you were always there when I didn’t need you.  To know I was wrong.  A little girl’s red cap, in case we both forget how far we’ve all come.

There are thirteen stairs in my parent’s house.   Three to Meghan and Danny’s front door.  One to Emily’s.  Four to Brian’s kitchen.  Seven times I almost forgot to remember to step on the brakes.  Innumerable drops of the heart.  That plane landed.  All twelve other times the plane landed.  That man had only been kidding (and it was before you couldn’t say that out loud), my heart has always managed to reposition itself to its former location in my chest, my car has always stopped before hitting another, the floor at the top of the stairs has always fixed my miscalculation of steps.  We could all slip and fall and be gone.  And what then of whom we’ve known?

Strength, hope, silver clowns, train tickets, words, peace, nostalgia, truth.  Stairs, brakes, hearts, planes.  And above all things, the people we leave ourselves with.  And above all things, the people who have left themselves with us.  And above all things, the people we become.  And above all things, the person we leave behind.   

 You Know Me

I honestly don’t remember how it happened.  I remember being loved.

Tick tock and his walk.  His walk was like someone’s from a different time.  His long legs were like pendulums in constant motion, his long wool coat wrapped around his slender body, his hands always shoved with some measure of confidence into his coat pockets, and his cap hid his seemingly graying hair.  “Good evening...”  Long walks and the same old neighbors.  The stride always said he had some place to go.  But it was always as if he was unsure of the who he was to be while on the way.  Always as if he was unsure as to why he was going.  Always going.  Never coming.

Tick tock and his deep blue eyes.  I have never seen them cry out loud.  A walk to the bay, sitting on a summer’s afternoon, a coffee shop in Delaware- these are the times I remember his tearless eyes crying.  And at 2 a.m. “... I mean all of my life these people have told me... why fight to go back to that?”  His tone screamed, “Enough.”  His eyes cried, “They don’t know me.”

Tick tock and his knowledge.  To that ten year old he knew everything.  He seemed to read everything.  It was his turn amongst the four and he chose the history channel.  The first thing I remember- a movie theater, the mention of a book, and the suggestion that I would like it.  He took his eleven year old sister to the movies.  Every weekend.  Eight years is a long time to span.

Tick tock and his obsession.  His age was hidden by no intention.  It was ironic that he made a living fixing time.  Old men with graying hair, woolen coats, caps, and pocket watches fixed clocks.  The cover of “The Old Curiosity Shop” stuck in my head.  I don’t remember the time before he found time.  Before he found that he could fix it.  Funny now... because I don’t think he believes in time much anymore.  Just right now.  Ironically- he’s aged.

Tick tock and his place in my life.  He surprised me when he said he had never seen “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  The bridge he would have come so close to jumping off would have been to leave.  “I mean I could buy that place up in Maine, but then where would you and Erick run away to?”  Eight years and he told me everything- without saying a word.

Tick tock and the words that he said.  “You know I love you kid.”  Three thousand miles away.  “Come here and then you can figure it out.”  “I haven’t figured it all out yet, I never said I did... I never said I would.”  Two hours on the phone.  “It’s not worth it.”  “How many times are we going to be up at 2 a..m. talking about this?”  “You know me.”

Tick tock and the look in his eyes now.  Bright blue and filling.  Bright blue and learning.  Bright blue and seeing that he is loved.  Bright blue and unexhausted.  Bright blue and searching for more of what he has.  Bright blue.

Tick tock and his son.  His pendulum legs slow down now.  His slender body bent down to be small- accessible.  His hands once shoved into pockets seemingly confidently now hold his son’s tiny hands.  Long walks and a different neighborhood.  He slows down.  Always as if he has nowhere to go.  Always as if he knows he is always coming home.  His stride saying he’ll get there.

Tick tock and the winding of his life.  Tick tock and the intertwining of the span of eight years.  Tick tock and my big brother.  Tick tock and the space between moments.  Tick tock and what a look teaches us.  Tick tock and what he didn’t know.  Tick tock and what I didn’t know.  Tick tock and what we learn.  Tick tock and home in a voice.  Tick tock and knowing he had always been there.  Tick tock and realizing I have always been there too.

I honestly don’t remember how it happened.  Someone told me once, “You know... I think you got the best of your brother.”  I remember being loved.  

 The Girl in the Glasses

She stands about five foot seven.  Naturally curly, light brown hair that has not been put up in a long, long time dangles just over her shoulders.  Before, and what always seems like a lifetime ago, an imperfect bun, done over and over again throughout the day, rested on the top of her head.  Sometimes though, she now puts the soft tendrils behind her ears.  Ears that stick out like her father’s had.  Ears with one earring in each, if any at all adorned them.  Ears that, when she was 17, held glasses to her face.  Glasses that she warned us the day before about.  “Guys, just letting you know I have an eye doctor appointment today.  I might need glasses.  So tomorrow I might come in a whole different person.”  In any other collection of people such a statement might encourage bounds of laughter.  In such a collection of people that she always surrounded herself with, or more accurately always surrounded her, such a statement only received a smirk. 

In the summer, her fair pale skin burns easily.  Always on the second day, never on the first, does the sun burn show.  One morning in late June, she got into the car with perfectly straight, right angled, rectangular burns on the front of her thighs.  On those days she walked like a robot.  Eventually it faded.  The freckles always stayed.  Her Irish freckles his her age and lightened her eyes.  Big blue eyes that sometimes itch during allergy season.  And many times over the course of a few years have cried.  And many times over the course of a few years have stared blankly.  Working to forget what cannot be misplaced.  Working to remember the time before things had changed.  She said her dad’s eyelashes had started to fall out because of the chemotherapy.  Not until then did I realize the blonde ends of her own eyelashes.  And not until then did I notice that she never wore mascara.  

She has never worn makeup.  Her fair skin, her blue, blue eyes, her ears like her father’s, the beauty mark just above her upper lip.  She never wore makeup.  She never needed to.  She had always looked fragile.  She had always been protected from everything but one thing in her life.  She has never had an enemy.  She has been hurt.  She is capable of hurting others.  She is capable of hurting herself. 

Mostly she cannot help but immerse herself in things.  Mostly she cannot help but just sit still.  Maybe waiting.  Maybe planning.  Maybe listening.  As a child she never listened for the footsteps of her parents.  She never scampered to shut off the light.  As a child her father left the light on in the hall, brought her water, called her “Kiddo.”  As a young woman her father left the light on in the hall, brought her water, called her “Kiddo.”  The house she grew up in never had a speck of dust.  Some might have called her mother neurotic because of this.  Come might have called her mother obsessive.  Some might have said she always cared.  Some might have seen the light in her eyes, passed on to her daughter and her son. Some might have seen the spark of sadness in all of them, that the wild sometimes have.  Some might never have accompanied the word wild with the girl with the blue, blue eyes at all.  Some might have known her better.

Some might have known her to come home on cold winter days, and sit atop the old fashioned heating vent on the floor.  To turn what could be considered Rock & Roll by some and just noise by others into Broadway show tunes- snapping fingers and waving arms included.  To drink Jack Daniels straight up.  To take a night cap just like her dad had before bed.  To throw up at the park one night, and in remembering it think of growing trees.  To love swings.  To disregard her life and just ride around in cars.  To not know her way home.  To smoke cigarettes from time to time.  To stare at a lit cigarette and say, “this is stupid.”  To ash and take another drag.  Some might have known her to try cocaine on cold December days.  Some might have known her to fall head over heels like a child.  To lay her head in someone’s lap, almost on accident, and just stay there.  To not wear her seatbelt when she was upset.  To give up easily.  Some might have known her to hold on until her knuckles bled.  To be the love of a young man’s life.  To be someone’s little sister.  To be someone’s daughter.  To give her mother a single stone with the word, “Hope” written on it.  To cry at diners.  Some might have known her to go for long walks alone on early fall days.  To listen to the same song over and over.  To come home to the Beatles blasting on her parent’s radio.  To tilt her head to the right when she hugged people.  To have a weak handshake.  To be an award winning tennis player.  Some might have known her to be indifferent.  To be oblivious.  To be uncommonly introspective.  To have low self-esteem.  To be intimidating.  To be incredible fragile.  To have smile lines that could not be hidden.  Some might known her to not know her own worth.  To write long passages in notebooks.  To not know what to say.  To not have to say anything.  Some might have known her to become a whole different person in the course of five years.  To not need the glasses to change anything.

She might have worn those glasses for a week or so, even despite her mother’s protest.  She might have turned into a very different person if things hadn’t changed.  If the world hadn’t moved.  If her life had shut off, even for just a little while

Back when she was a kid, which was no more then two and a half years ago, she found the end of the world.  A frozen bay on a cold, cold December day.  A frozen world, where nothing moved and no one had to say anything.  And although she would sometimes argue that the fall was her favorite time of the year, after the fall came the winter.  And only cold persisted.  And she wasn’t the type to persist.  She wasn’t the type to argue.  She wasn’t the type to move the world with force.  

She was the type to sit and stare.  To watch the stars stay fixed behind the glass windows of cars.  To walk frailly down a tree covered two-way street.  To comment that two cars would never fit.  To not think of how she looked. To redo her hair a hundred times.  To sit in the back of the room quietly.  To sit at the front of the church and clutch her brother’s hand.  To be incredibly intelligent.  To not know her own way home.  To be stronger than her pale arms lead on.  To have blue, blue eyes deep enough to never drown in.  To swim to the surface and just float there.  To have tearless, immersed eyes.  She was the girl who lost her father.  Clutched her brother’s hand.  Gave her mother hope.  Fell head over heels in love.  Was someone’s anchor.

She stands about five foot seven.  Naturally curly, light brown hair that has not been put up in a long, long time dangles just over her shoulders.  She has been hurt.  She is capable of hurting others.  She is capable of hurting herself.  She may have shut her life off.  She may have persisted.  She may have lost herself.  She may have clutched her own heart.  She may still have hope.  She may be capable of being loved back.  She may be her own anchor.  She is the type to comment, that tomorrow she might, “come in as a whole different person.”  She may be the girl in the glasses.  

 About October.

About the past, you knew I had no intention of wishing we had given so much more than youth to each other, right?  You knew that all of those situations.  The could haves and might haves.  Backstage balconies.  Light rooms.  Darkened theatres.  Not knowing how to touch you.  Not knowing when to touch me.  Being afraid of the public eye.  Every weekend parties.  That first night.  Falling for the first time. You knew I had no intention of wishing we had given so much more than youth to each other, right?

About the nights I could have, you knew I had every intention of losing my virginity to you, right?  You knew that the situation never came that would have made me.  her little sister’s bed.  The couch in the living room.  You too drunk to speak.  Her falling asleep in the same room.  Our being young and unable to say the words.  not knowing that you were in the same position as me.  Falling asleep to your heartbeat, until finally the year was gone.  You knew I had every intention of losing my virginity to you, right?

About that year we didn’t talk much, you knew I had no intention of realizing how much I missed in you, right?  You knew that all of the things I knew of you.  The movie critiques.  The yo-yos.  The ‘toy-boy.’  Someone’s son who wouldn’t leave for that fact.  That spot on your neck.  The place on your stomach that would make you laugh.  Running your finger down the center of my face.  The someone who had no need to be what they wanted.  You knew I had no intention of realizing how much I missed in you, right?

About last October, you knew I had every intention of getting back together, right?  You knew that the walk around those apartment houses.  Being like children.  Pretending that the pavement was lava.  Jumping from painted yellow line to painted yellow line, until finally they ran out and we sat on the curb to smoke.  You knew I had every intention of getting back together, right?

About that week, you knew I had every intention of not letting you go again, right?  You knew that sitting on that bench at 2 A.M.. My ride leaving hours before.  Listening to you and him talk about the thing you’d done. Coming so close to holding your hand.  Having you drive me home.  Hugging you good night, until finally I let go and told you to call me about getting together that weekend.  You knew I had every intention of not letting you go again, right?

About that weekend, you knew I had every intention of sleeping with you by the end of the night, right?  You knew that the empty bottle.  My sitting on the counter behind everyone else there.  Knowing you’d go outside.  Knowing you’d walk back in.  Standing next to me.  Having your hand latch onto mine behind my back.  Letting the alcohol sink in.  Turning to face you, until finally everyone else had gone and you followed me into that dark room- losing your virginity.  You knew I had every intention of sleeping with you by the end of the night, right?

About the letters, you knew I had every intention of eventually not needing to write it down, right?  You knew I wanted to say the words.  Back again for a third time.  Watching a movie.  Sitting next to you on your bed.  Both of us casually laying down.  Our hands laying next to each other.  A joke to break the ice.  My fingers playing with the bracelet around your wrist.  Eventually my hand on your stomach.  Kissing you, until finally we were back where we had been years before.  You knew I had every intention of eventually not needing to write it down, right? 

About the time between, you knew I had no intention of noticing the time that had past by the way you kissed, right?  You knew what the hand on your bracelet meant.  The kiss.  The closing of the door.  The volume of the T.V. raised slightly.  Everything the same as before.  Three years later though.  the people between use then and us now apparent.  You turned your head the same way.  You moved the same way.  Took your shirt off the same way.  Your kiss was different.  Calmer.  More confident.  Your lips touched mine, until finally you reached for a condom.  You knew I had no intention of noticing the time that had passed by the way that you kissed, right?

About that entire day, you knew I had no intention of it being the last, right?  You changing the oil in their car.  Me washing our cars.  Working and not saying anything.  later dinner at a restaurant.  Red wine.  Your T-bone steak.  The waitress who I didn’t realize I would be so jealous of.  The waitress who you didn’t realize I was so jealous of.  The six pack in your room.  The space between, until finally you walked me to my car, kissing me good-night.  You knew I had no intention of it being the last night, right?

About all of this, you knew I had every intention of seeing if I was still in love with you, the way I had been three years before, right?  You knew both of us never had a clue.  Three years later still as young.  Still not saying a word.  Still no response to letters.  Constant re-breaking of the ice.  Waiting for the situation to arise.  Waiting for the other to move.  The year always being gone.  our lives always being separate.  Knowing you.  Knowing me.  Not knowing us.  The situation never arising, until finally we both just left.  You knew I had every intention of seeing if I was still in love with you, the way I had been three years before, right?  

About right now, you know I have no intention of ever saying all of this to you, right?  You know everything has changed.  And nothing at all has moved.  I’m with someone else.  Engaged.  I don’t know where you are.  I didn’t lose my virginity to you.  You lost yours to me.  We gave each other youth.  Sometimes I still miss you, but not the man I slept with- the boy I used to know.  I still wonder if I let you go, or if you let me go.  I still wonder if we were both waiting for the other.  Or if it never really meant that much.  You know I have no intention of ever saying all of this to you, right?

About what we did say.  “I think I’m falling in love with you.”  “I missed you.”  “When you say your life is falling apart I want to be there with superglue and glue it all back together.”  We never could say the words.  We only ever gave each other youth.

About October, I’m sorry.  

 The Girl with the White Ribbon

None of this may be true.  But it is what I remember.  It is what I promised I would write.  What I heard.  Or more, what I remembered.  What I saw in the eyes across the table saying.  We scramble to absorb the memories when someone passes.  Hers is a wider story than memories can reach.  You know her.  She is the wise one sitting quietly at the table, sometimes smirking.  Her laugh is pure and real.  Her soul is wide and deep.  This is how I remember her stories.  This is how I remember her.  


A black and white photograph remains.  It was the association I had as a child myself to her.  It might have meant nothing, if not for that white ribbon.  In her mother’s arms she looked forward with a smile.  A small girl with a big white ribbon in her hair.  A huge ocean liner as the background.  She was only a young girl when she came to America.  

Her father had left for America when she was too young to remember who he was.  Too young to build that sort of affection that would be missed.  Her mother and she arrived by ship from Germany.  It was warm weather the day the ship docked.  Her father and her uncle were waiting for them to arrive.  Her father had come over some time before, to start a better life for them all.  She did not know either man.  But she did know that her uncle had beard.  Holding her mother’s hand as they walked towards the men, she figured out which man was her father.  Her mother let go of her hand and hugged her husband, giving him a kiss.  The young girl with the white ribbon in her hair was taken aback by this sight.  That was her mother and no one else’s.  Who was this man to hug and kiss her like that? That man bought her balloons and candy, and anything else she asked for on the boardwalk that day.  She quickly made the decision that her father was all right.  Safe.  

They knew no English when the first came to America.  The little girl was to teach her parents phrases and common words.  As a child during the 1920’s it was easy to learn the language.  The children played out in the streets.  Entire neighborhoods grew up running around together on paved streets.  She learned easily.  Even as a child, she was incredibly strong willed and reluctant to fall behind.  

The elementary school that she attended was some distance away from their home.  Every morning her mother would make her oatmeal and then she would have to run to school.  She had started the school year out as a semi-chubby little girl.  The run to school changed that.  She would often try to wake up early enough to not have to rush in the mornings.  School was somewhere her mother told her she must attend.  She was to sit and listen and behave.  Her mother never said she had to like it.

Once her mother overheard a teacher call her by a different name, and watched as her daughter responded.  “Tell them how to pronounce your name,”  her mother insisted.  But she never did.  It was well enough she figured, we both knew who she meant.  


When she was in high school she would have to take the bus to school.  Students were issued special tickets to ride on the city buses.  The buses were always crowded.  Often she and her friend would see a group of young boys.  They were always together.  And they were always rowdy.  A lifetime later she would find that she was to spend the rest of her life with this crowd.  Befriending them. Becoming family. Growing old, together. 


My mother had hung a black and white photograph of a young couple on the wall.  It hung there for years before I ever asked who it was.  The two stood behind a white picket fence.  The scenery placed them in the garden in front of a cottage home.  The man had his hair slicked back and was wearing a gray suit. He looked like the definition of the word suave.  The woman had her hair done up in tight curls around her head.  Her figure matched his.  His arm around her waist.  Their smiles and their eyes are what I remember most.  Easy.  Calm.  Confident.  Enchanted.

And Then One Day

He had a bird .  A parakeet.  He never spoke.  Except once, he yelled at me for throwing a can back into the bay.  He didn’t know I had just fished it out, that I didn’t know what to do with it.  I was lazy.  Lazy and six.  Erick fell into the bay once and came to the door, dripping wet.  I remember him in the comfortable chair laughing.  My mother says he was an alcoholic, but she knew she was still daddy’s little girl.  He sat in the comfortable chair.  I didn’t know him.

She used to talk about her kids every morning.  I only ever saw and heard her speak.  She was worried about the effect the world would have on them.  Her daughter had mimicked a television show.  “Mommy, I’m going to shoot you.”  She was devastated.  A week later she was running.  A week later she was raped and killed.  He had gone to the same high school as she had.  He didn’t know that.  Neither did she.  She taught my brother.  But she didn’t know I knew that.  I only ever saw and heard her speak.

I don’t have an image of him without a smile on his face.  He sat me on his lap when daddy’s little girl’s father died.  I still had people in my life- he showed me that.  The names and faces he quizzed me on.  These were the people who were close to my grandfather.  This was my family.  He brought a bottle of clear liquid labeled with black letters, ‘SAUCE.’  He was on a plane.  A heart attack.  I know he was smiling.  His second wife argues with his kids over the house now.  They hate her.  He loved her.

She wasn’t supposed to live past ten.  She graduated high school.  Her heart was big enough to fill an ocean.  All oceans.  Once I walked ahead on the way back home.  She was mad.  She was worried.  She was diabetic.  She thought she had too many sweets.  She overdosed on her medication, maybe.  I had never seen my grandmother cry before.  Her niece and nephew said she was in heaven.  I had never seen my grandmother cry before.

I believe in angels because of him.  He was calm.  Cool.  Incredible.  My best friend’s father.  “If you ever need anything kid- just call.”  He stood in the doorway.  Skinny.  Lung Cancer.  He told amazing stories.  Crazy stories.  One morning he fell.  One night I got a phone call.. Plastic world.  “Let it be, let it be... whisper words of wisdom”  Meghan Roe.

The middle of November- brain cancer.  He kept my grandmother company for ten year’s after daddy’s little girl’s father died.  He was in the war.  He drank Pepsi and rye, “with just a little bit of ice George.”  He had always been in my life.  He was on the quiz.  “Do you know that this was your grandfather’s best friend his WHOLE life?”  No.  They were in the war.  He kept my grandmother company.  He kept his best friend’s wife company when he died.  He left her alone at the beginning of December.  Brain cancer.  It was no one’s fault.  “The cycle goes on.”  He kept her company.  Twice I’ve seen her cry.  

And then one day... they’re just gone.  And you’re left here with these images.  

Distinguishable Voices

At three o’clock in the afternoon he sits in the center of it all.  In the center of this part of all that he owns.  He is worth more than a million dollars.  He has been known to shell out a quarter of a million dollars to bail his sister out of jail on a cocaine charge.  He has been known to take his own sisters to court for using the family name on their own establishment.  He has stepped out of limousine and said, “That is the last cigarette you ever smoke on this property.”  He has been known to have a hearty laugh.  He has been known to have a distinguishable laugh.  He has been known to have a distinguishable voice.  He speaks and the earth moves.  He speaks and it sounds like yelling, even in a whisper.  

There is possibly a young man inside the blue pin stripe suit that has never quite completed himself.  He has wrinkles on the side of his eyes.  They look like laughter wrinkles.  Those who work for him never could imagine such an essence happy.  Those that work for him will stop from time to time and realize he is someone’s father.  He is someone’s husband.  He is someone’s son.  He is someone’s uncle.  He is someone’s brother.  He is someone’s father.  He is someone’s father.  Those that work for him will wonder is he ever changed diapers.  If so, then how many?    

There is a man in his forties that sits at a table at three o’clock every afternoon.  He has food served to him.  Usually fish.  A glass of red wine.  He drinks alcohol everyday.  His wife is an alcoholic.  They rarely eat together.  They sometimes drink together.  She smokes cigarettes on that property.  They met at Meat Farms.  Things do change.  They have two children together.  He is someone’s father.  He is someone’s husband.  He has a wife and kids.  He has always put food on the table.  He has always put clothes on their backs.  He has been known to point out that, “I put those clothes on your back.“  He has been known to walk out to cars that pull up to his house and say, “ I never want to see this car on this property again.  He and his wife have from time to time shown up at the parties their children attended unexpectedly.  

His children are known to be thankful.  His children seem terrified.  He has said, “I put those clothes on your back.”  He has been told, “Dad, I’m gay.”  He is someone’s father.  He has said, “I hope this is just a phase.”  He is someone’s father.  His children are grown.  His children are as close as siblings can be.  His children lie for each other.  His children are each other’s family.  He is someone’s father.  

He employs over two hundred people.  His collection of wines is equal to an entire college career, possibly more.  He does not get wine himself.  He pays people to get it for him.  Businessmen in suits visit his table and offer him tastes of Italy, of France, of the Americas, of Australia.  

The man that sits at the table at three o’clock every afternoon, eating and drinking wine runs every morning.  He is a business man himself.  He is the oldest brother of seven, or maybe eight.  His strongest ties lay within the roots of his family.  His business supports his entire family.  He does not go to sit at the table for fun.  It is his table.  Most people cannot say they have a table.  The business man owns many tables, but more wine.  

The business man has many cameras.  He does not trust anyone.  He does not like waste.  Waste is money, and he cannot offered waste over time.  He has someone clean his house.  He has someone clean his table.  He has someone clear his table.  He has someone deliver him wine.  He has someone bring him the phone.  

Sometimes his brother-in-law sits across from him at the table.  He does not particularly like this man.  This man is who his sister married.  This man is who he employs.  This man is good to his sister.  This man is good to his nieces.  The business man who runs in the mornings has strong ties in family.  This man sometimes sits with the business man’s daughter.  This man is good to the business man’s daughter. The business man has strong ties in family.  His brother-in-law sits across the table from him sometimes, not his employee.  

The business man sometimes seems as though he has so much, yet so little.  The business man employs over two hundred people.  The business man keeps food on the table of over two hundred people.  The business man was once a cook.  He once did not own a suit.  He once did not speak English.  He was born in Italy.  The eldest child supports his now divorced parents.  His father would sometimes hit his mother.  He is someone’s son.    

He is not a man of great stature.  He is a man of great essence.  His eyes do not have to comb over all that he owns to know that something is out of place.  Those that work for him might be under the impression that he is under the impression that if he stopped, everything would follow in a non-stride form.  Everything would stop if he did.  The man does not wonder who eats the center of the cheesecake.  The man asks.  The man explains that whoever does eat the center of the cheesecake will be fired.  The man thought of not cutting the center of the cheesecake to avoid the stealing of the center of the cheesecake.  That is an expensive cheesecake.  When cut, no one eats the center.  The center is thrown out.  The man does not comb over this.  

The man has asked his cashier how she was feeling, knowing she had been sick.  The man has joked with his staff.  The man has shared the laughter lines with his staff.  His staff cannot fathom owning so much.  His staff cannot understand why a man with so much must yell so often.  The man sees a waiting time of two hours.  The man sees people who come knowing they will wait that long.  The man sees his wait-staff described in a local newspaper as “surly.”  The man thinks that this is a good description.  His wait-staff thinks that it does fit.  His wait-staff wonders how “surly” and two hour wait fit together.  The newspaper told the man it is “worth it.”  

  The man sits on table forty every afternoon at three o’clock.  The restaurant is rarely ever filled at that time.  Italian music plays over the man’s speakers.  The bar is empty.  The phone is ringing.  The thought of spaghetti in the minds of husbands and wives and children at home will cause a reaction which will eventually slow back down to the times when the man is sitting at table forty every afternoon at three o’clock.  

The man will be sitting at the end of the bar by the end of the night.  His feet will sometimes swing.  His feet will sometimes rest on the bar stool’s edge.  He does not sit with his legs crossed in any fashion.  His pinstripe suit always shows his slender frame.  The man runs in the mornings.  No one does it for him.   

For those that work for the man it is hard to imagine him in running clothes.  It is hard to imagine him in pajamas.  It is hard to imagine him doing anything for himself.  The man has so much.  The man has so many people doing his work for him.  The man wears blue often.  Those who work for him make the assumption that he has not done his own laundry, nor has his wife, in a long, long time.  He has said, “I want everyone that works for me to own a restaurant someday- so they can see how much goes into it.”  He has been smirked at and asked for funding of such an establishment.  He has responded, “You have to fund it yourself and build it up, just like I have.”  

Those that work for him do not often think of him as having a past.  Those that work for him do not often think of him as being human.  Those that work with him have been leveled when his distinguishable voice said to his young niece, “Come here, give me a hug.”  He is someone’s uncle.  Those who work for him have seen his young niece run the other way.  Those that work for him may have or may not have thought to glance over at his face when she did this.  He has a niece.  

The man sits most days in a pinstripe suit.  The man is very rarely ever heard sighing.  The man is very rarely ever seen as human.  The man is a business man.  The man may or may not drink more than he should.  The man is a father of two children.  The man is a provider.  The man has lent money to those in need.  The man has spent some time yelling at people he pays money to.  The man was born in Italy.  The man was once a little boy.

When the man in the blue pinstripe suit gets up from table forty his place is cleared.  His wine bottle is thrown away.  The table is reset.  It is unnoticeable that any person had ever sat there before.  The man got up on his own.  No one does it for him.  

  The Quiet Doctor

Afternoons.  Monday.

“You wake up in the morning.  You find that you are inside of a tomato.  Write a short story about how you go about your day.”

Pause.  Silence.

“Take just a few more moments to finish up.”

Pause.  Rustle of paper.  A zipper.

“Now, let’s go around the room.  What happened in your day?  Did you get out of the tomato?  Did you stay inside of it?”

Answers.  Various.  No extreme is said.  

“For class on Wednesday, I want you to write a biographical portrait.  Something that changed your life.”

The professor stands about five foot seven.  From a single glance, you can tell that he has always had that demeanor.  Always that calm.  You can tell that he wears grey hats.  That he loves his wife.  That he adores his grandchildren.  From the way he holds his hand to his cheek.  His patience.  His lifetime.  


“I’ll take your papers, just pass them around.”

Rustle.  Zip. Zip.  

“Pass this around.”  


Professor’s voice reading for approximately fifteen minutes.  He skips a word or two every once in a while.  Unimportant words.  But still, written.  

“What’s the story here?”

Silence.  A single raised hand.  Writing on the board.  White chalk.  Broken chalk.  Half script.  Half print.  

“I’ll have your stories back to you probably by next week.”

He always carries with him a folder.  A file.  With white paper.  Stories.  Written words are never far from his hands.  From his eyes.  Connections are continuous.  The students he speaks to are mostly oblivious to the references.  Few will write down what he says.  Few will remember what they didn’t write down.  Few will put together the story about his grandchildren.  The bus.   The boat for sale.  The step-children.  Few will look for the wedding band.  Notice the sweaters.  The brown shoes.  He tilts his head when he speaks to someone directly.  Or when he trying to make a point.  A slight point.  Not a statement.  Just a moment’s time.  Maybe someone will get back on the bus.  


“I have your papers to give back.  I’m going to read three of them.”  

Professors’ voice for approximately fifteen minutes.  

“It’s funny.  Because it’s a wonderful story, but I couldn’t tell you what it’s about.”

He read it right.  Very few professors, teachers, or anyone can read someone else’s story correctly.  He didn’t change the sounds of the words.  Or the pauses.  His script on paper is small.  With a slight angle.  His statements brief.  Underlining sentences.  Vertical lines on the side of the page, in the margin.  

Tuesday mornings.  One year later.  

“In this course we will read short stories and one novel.”  

Hemingway.  Train station.  Hot sun.  Beaded Curtain.  Suitcases.  Oranges, browns, a hint of yellow.  

“What is this story about?”

Scribbled words on the top of the photocopied story.


“What do you think?”

“He needed her not to complicate him.”

The room, huge and white.  The roof leaking from the rain.  The shades broken.  The chalk breaking.  You began to wonder why he was teaching here, of all schools.  It was a rainy Fall.  You wonder if he sold the boat.  How many students have sat on the other side of his desk and heard praise?  Does that matter?  


He wears a gray hat.  Rimmed.  Worn, but not too worn.  It was cold.  But you saw him.  Wanted it to stay a photograph, so you didn’t wave.  Didn’t smile.  On Thursday, you noticed he was getting older.  Final papers.

“Everything but his life.”

Just like the tomato.  You write, the story isn’t about getting out.  Leaving to remember.  


“Not really trying to sell the boat.”


My whole life I’ve been looking for a female role model.  When I was little the search ran from teachers to other kid’s mothers to next door neighbors.  Then there were friends and girlfriends of Brian’s who I trotted after.  Wanting a leather jacket because she had one.  Or sitting up straight at the table because she did.  

And certainly there were teachers.  “Miss Michigan says...” Those which I revered in front of my entire family as being the smartest women in the world.  Only to later realize that any adult who owns that much clothing from Disney World cannot be, in any way, a healthy individual.  A role model perhaps in instances, but I can’t remember her face.  I was five.  Boldness.  Assertive.  A room full of five year olds, scorned for doing the hokey-pokey wrong.  Maybe it was the frankness in her voice.  She had a scratchy voice.  

In fifth grade my mother wrote a letter to my teacher explaining the situation between her and my father.  He had moved out.  While I was standing in the hall, waiting for the Environmental Club to start, she pulled me aside.  “It’s not your fault.”  Blunt.  Without the head nod.  Just a look in the eyes.  Not a word more.  I adored her for that moment.  Four words, and nothing more, ever.  

When my father started moving in and out, maybe then I started looking for a male role model too.  The incredibly smart Social Studies nerd teacher who sent my poem in to be published.  The math teacher who stuck and allowed for endless possibilities of humor in a day.  Humor.  Smirks.  My father had that too.  Has.  After Bill, no one stood a chance in that space.  Not within school walls.

At fifteen I sat in the last row and to the side.  Had found that dressing entirely in black made Christmas a lot easier on the family.  I also started smoking.  You have to listen to the people in your life.  The people available to you.  In front of you.  Observe them.  Listen to what they say.  And then listen to what their eyes say.  Their breathing.  The sighs.  The way they hold their hands.  What they don’t do.  The head up to the ceiling.  Wonder when in their lives they started doing that.  Rolling pencils between their hands constantly.  

The last day of classes before Christmas break, I went up and asked Michelle for her email address.  That day in class, a few kids had been bugging her to give it to them.  She wouldn’t.  I don’t remember what sparked me going and asking.  I used to go sit in Erick’s art class until the bell rang.  I had walked by a few times that semester and knew which hallway she sat in.  Signed my own pass, got up and went to ask.  And she simply said yes.  

That first year of high school I did a lot of stupid things.  Normal things.  Started smoking on a regular basis.  Started drinking every weekend.  Started, what we called, “dating” a senior.  Started making out in the rafters of the school auditorium.  Spending weekends anywhere but home.  Started smoking pot.  Driving without a license.  And fast.  Drunk.  Started going to watch bands.  Spending more time on docks watching the water late at night.  Started writing in notebooks to Meghan and M.  Started painting more.  Writing more.  Started running at night.  

That Christmas I started writing emails to Michelle.  I still have a few that she wrote.  A few of personal experience.  Trusting.  Honest answers.  Then, I always wondered why she trusted me with so much.  We never spoke in class.  Except to exchange a book and a tape.  Or a smirk.  A comment about spontaneous combustion.  Three years later she would tell me that existentialism just didn’t work.  Couldn’t last.  Get over that.  A few more months, maybe a year.  She would see imprinted words on my wrist and say, “You won’t always feel like this.”  And leave it at that.  It was snowing really heavy that afternoon.  For words.  For storied listened to.  For stories told and entrusted to me.  

I analyze people constantly.  I can’t help it.  The team I play on now is composed of nine other players, a head coach, a full-time assistant and a part-time.  In the four weeks that we’ve spent (just about every hour with each other), I have gone back and forth over the things each of them has said and not said a hundred times in my head.  Not for judgment sake.  But because they are there.  Like novels or portraits of lives to be read and looked upon.  Like building characters.  Maybe hoping that they might one day surprise you.  Prove that judgment, that you swore you didn’t make, wrong.  Meghan once laughingly said, “People really don’t know what they’re getting into when they meet you.”  Maybe it’s funny.  How a life can be dismembered by someone else.  Maybe it’s not a healthy habit.  Maybe it’s a wasted habit.  But then again, maybe it’s a good way to see people.  If you have that sort of time.  Patience.  If it doesn’t drive you mad or depress you.  

Maybe that’s why I asked for the email address without thinking.  The truth in certain lives, can be seen.  Just by looking.  And not going over the words.  Just absorption of the life in front of you.  Like breathing room.  Like hope.

In this life, so far, I am amazed by people.  In men, I’ve always looked for humor.  In women, I’ve always looked for candor.  Unwavering candor.  And the ability to laugh at every inch of their lives.  Of all the people in my life, of all of the many mothers I sought out, Michelle kept me truly grounded.  Realizing that it wasn’t a mother I was searching for all that time.  It was a sister.  A sounding board far away from my “real life.“  The idea of a rope, with no strings.  Someone to say back, “I know.“  And nothing more.  Owed nothing.  Grounded, not from doing certain things, not from falling to that level of sheer futile stupidity.  Certainly not from falling too hard.  But grounded.  Reminding.  Hope.  That maybe it wasn’t all futility.  Hope.  That maybe it was.  

 Racing Home.  

Coming home was never something he thought he’d do.  It was something he never thought he could do in the way so many others before him had.  It wasn’t like coming home from college.  And it wasn’t like visiting for Christmas.  It wasn’t Easter.  And there wasn’t to be any wedding.  

Home was some where that he had never left.  Home was a place that he had grown up in.  Home was a place that without knowing it he had grown away from.  The sounds of the voices.  Images frozen in his mind.  Stories that made him who he was.  Stories that remind him who he is.  Stories that tell him who he wants to be.  These were the home he never left.  The shock of returning to that home after never leaving it.  The shock was inevitable.  

Coming home is a strange existence.  Thinking you know home.  Being surprised at how surprised you are that it still exists.  Surprised that the traffic lights had not been left on red for all that time.  Surprised that metal screens had not been covering store windows all that time.  Surprised that the construction on the new bank had not been halted for that segment of time.  Surprised that hundreds of gallons of coffee had passed through those urns.   

Something as simple as the placement of a tree on a corner.  Something as simple as the youth of a tree on a corner.  The large white houses that cut down their trees to let the sun shine.  Being surprised that the sun has caused the wood chips to fade.  Astounded that vinyl siding caught on in a place where only brick and cedar belonged.  Realizing that home did not belong to you.  Realizing that you belonged to home.  Knowing you cannot stay.  Knowing you couldn’t have stayed.

Eventually he might accept that home was not a place that you come to.  Eventually he might accept that home was a place that you go.  Home was a place that with time will leave him.  He will be astounded that home means so much.  He will realize that going home is a process.  He will realize that even when he leaves home again he will still be going home.  He will realize that he cannot take it back.  He cannot return.  He will realize he couldn’t have stayed.  

Coming home is the image of the swirl of shapes that pass through his head when he closes his eyes.  Coming home is the mind putting colors to those shapes as they swirl away from him.  Leaving home again: the fading of a black and white checkered pattern turning to gray as he falls to sleep each night.

He will realize that no matter where he goes to.  No matter where he returns to.  No matter where he comes to he will be walking the same earth.  He will realize that that same ground spins to keep up with all the rest.  He will realize that he cannot stop the spinning.  He cannot return home.  He cannot go home.  He can not come home.  He will realize he is his home.  He will realize he is home.  

Upon seeing his little sister he might think that he is her frozen image.  He might see that the blue shirt and black suit with yellow tie that he showed up in erases all of that.  He might speak and his spectrum of languages has erased the sound in her head.  The crackle of phone lines between them removed will change his tone.  The image of his smile will replace the memory of her oldest brother.  

The video they had sent to him reminded him.  Upon seeing the video his initial reaction was to still own the material bed.  To still own the material shelves in the closet.  To still own the Coca-Cola clock on the wall.  The video they had sent him will have the date 1999 on that clock.  His little sister will be petting a cat she could not stand before he left.  The video they had sent him will have his mother interrupting his father’s sentences.  

The video they sent him will make him believe that time does not wait.  The video that they sent him will not show the in between.  Their voices on the phone showed the in between.   The video that they sent will show him a home that he once believed was inherent in him.  A television show four years earlier proved him wrong about that.  Constant voices will prove the television wrong.  The checkers still swirl.  

The video replaces his images that their voices drew on the phone.  The video replaces the images of the home he knew when he owned the material bed.  The material shelf.  The material clock.  The material date has passed.  

One ten hour flight and one suit will replace time and choke him all the same.  He will be overwhelmed to sit on that bed.  He will be overwhelmed to fall asleep to the sound of his brother’s breath.  He will be overwhelmed by his mother’s pampering of him.

His mother will be overwhelmed by her son in a suit.  His mother will do nothing but accept his life.  His mother must know she must have done something right.  His mother will see her son in a suit at the airport and be able to take him home.  His mother is his home.  His sister’s laugh is his laugh.  His brother’s breathing is his breathing.  His father’s wisdom is his wisdom.  His family’s heart is his home.  These are the things that are inherent in him.  

His mother will treat him like a guest, not knowing when or how to stop herself.  His family will listen to his stories.  His family will hear the sounds of his friends from New York calling.  His mother will be reminded that he is not staying by these calls.  His mother will see her son in a suit.  His mother will see her son’s smile.  His mother will feel the arms of her son.  His mother will see her son in his bed.  His mother will see her family together under one roof.  His mother will be reminded in the back her mind that time has not stopped all of the lights on red in the passed.  His mother will be reminded that now is no different.   

He will realize that home is home.  That he is home.  That the material home is what it is because his father gave him wisdom there.  His brothers fell asleep there.  His sister has laughed there.  His mother has loved there.  He will realize that this above all things will never leave him.  He will realize he cannot return home.  He cannot go home.  He can not come home.  He will realize he is his home.  He will realize he is home.    

His American girlfriend will still feel his hand draped over her waist as they slept before he left.  As they slept every night before he left.  She will still be able to feel his lips on her stomach.  His limbs wrapped around her entire body.  She will drive to the apartment each night after work and remind herself that he will not be there.  She will count the days he has been gone and realize it does not total a week.  

She will realize that she is in love with him.  She will realize that she did not quite say good-bye at the airport.  She will know that she should have held him longer at the airport.  He will know that she does not do well with good-byes.  He will know that she was biting the inside of her mouth as she hugged him.  

She will be glad that she got stuck in traffic and did not have to think about four thousand miles or fifty one days.  She will not tell him that she did begin to cry when the traffic lifted and it began to rain.  She will know what their friend was doing, driving to the airport all of those times.  

She will realize that he has not left her.  This is not something they have to get through.  She will miss him more than she thought she would.  She will be glad that he got the chance to go home.  To visit home.  She will see greeting cards everywhere.  Little children with sad faces.  She will buy them all and than not know what to write.  

She will try to sleep in the bed where he draped his hand over her waist.  She will find that the bed is too large for her.  She will find that she has no one to push out of bed.  No one’s covers to steal.  No one’s skin to tickle when he begins to snore.  She will realize that she cannot be at home in that bed without his hand draped over her waist.  She will begin to sleep on the couch.  

She will realize she is constantly waiting.  She will spend the summer attempting to learn the language that his family speaks.  Attempting to learn to language that the people from his home speak.  He will tell her in her language that she is always with him.  She will look at the globe and realize the place where she stands is racing the place where he stands.  She will not try to race for him.  

She will remember the words of her best friend when she herself left for a different home.  “It feels as though you were my imaginary friend all this time.”  She will realize that as she had, he will come back.  She will know she came home the place to find home the people.  She will wonder where his home lies.  She will realize she is not racing his family for his home.  She will realize she cannot race his family for his home.  

He will tell her she is in his heart always.  He will realize he cannot return home.  He cannot go home.  He can not come home.  He will realize he is his home.  He will realize he is home.  She will want to see his eyes and feel his skin when he tells her, “You are always with me, even here.”  

She will take this as her own checkered swirl.  The swirl she realizes is always the same.  She will think in rhymes that brings her to say that the swirl may be swirling away, but it will return the very next day.  

She does not expect him to return to her.  He does not expect to return to her.  They do not leave each other.  He could not stay.  She knows that.  He had to go.  She knows that.  An entire ocean leaves a millions questions and three separate languages.  She knows that.  His mother knows that.  His mother wants him only to be happy.  His girlfriend knows that visiting home will make him happy.  

His girlfriend has gone home before.  She has come home before.  Coming home did not make her happy.  Going home made her leave again.  His girlfriend will realize she could not leave the home he has created in her heart for him.  She realizes that his leaving brings her closer.  She realizes that him leaving gives him her home to come back to.  She knows that he does not leave her.  

She realizes she is in love with him.  She is in love with his home.  She is in love with his languages.  With his hand draped around her waist.  His lips on her stomach.  She will begin to fall in love with the sound of his voice on the phone.  She will begin to fall in love with his written words on a shining screen.  She will begin to fall in love with his process of going home.  She will begin to fall in love with the idea that on a huge earth, racing itself; she does not have to race for him.


He will realize that he is his home.  He will realize that this above all things will never leave him.  He will realize that the tree one the corner of his youth is part of him.  He will realize that the tree on the corner that stands tall enough to shade him as he walks along is part of him.  He will realize that his thoughts of all that has changed is the story that creates and reaffirms who he was.  Who he is.  Who he will be.  He will take the grown tree with him.  Take the aging laughter of his sister.  The deepened sound of his brother’s breathing.  His father’s wise eyes needing to say nothing.  His mother’s pampering of her eldest son.  His girlfriend’s voice over four thousand miles.  He will take it and it will become his home.  

He will realize he cannot return home.  He cannot go home.  He cannot come home.  He will realize he is his home.  He will realize he is home.    


You do not need the whole story to understand what I am saying.  You have your own stories.  You have heard the stories of others.  You know what is possible.  You know what it all means.  No matter the story I tell, you will project yourself into my words.  If I write “can” you might take it as “could.”  If I write “tomorrow” you might take it as “soon.”  These are the decisions we make.  These are the sentences we construct.  This is the world we create.  These are the lives in which we project ourselves through.  Mother Theresa’s life was what the media tells you it was.  It was what you thought you heard.  To her it might have just been breathing.  I will not change the world.  These words are not to keep you interested.  These words are to keep air in y lungs.  Keep that in mind as you reconstruct my world.

You have your own stories.  In the middle of JFK sometime in January he stood.  Clutched in his hand was a piece of paper.  Translated Arabic to English phrases.  “How are you?… Where can I find a hotel?… How much does this cost?”  It’s funny how in a second you can decide to get on a plane and wind up in the middle of Manhattan for ten days.  Unable to call home.  Unable to read the English directions on the telephone.  You spend seventy-nine dollars for a taxi ride to a hotel.  You do not know that this is expensive.

You have heard the stories of others.  There’s a bump in the road that I avoid as I’d seen my mother do in her Jeep a hundred times.  The bump has always been there.  It hasn’t moved.  If you weave around it just right, your car won’t bounce so bad.  Yesterday, two women, two men, and two seeing eye dogs stood at the corner near that bump that had always been there.  I don’t ever remember seeing people at that corner.  I don’t ever remember seeing two dogs at that corner.  Nothing except that bump to avoid ever existed at that corner before yesterday.  I can no longer weave around the bump without noticing that no one stands at that corner.  They have moved on.  Trusting that they will weave around all the bumps, even though they cannot see.

You know what is possible.  I know I am dying.  What it used to be was strep-throat.  Almost once a month, every month for about eight years.  When I left on September 11th, 2000 I already had a cold.  Thirty days later, three thousand miles later, I still had a cold.  Allergies.  One year later- a fever.  Headache.  Skin crawling.  A deep sough.  Two months later the same thing.  Another two months and they removed my tonsils.  Another month and another headache.  Another cold.  More allergies.  Skin crawling.  A deep cough.  It’s not mono.  And nothing showed up in the blood work.  I know that I am dying.

You know what it all means.  She did not change the world.  She had three quarters of a century to do so.  There is a picture.  Age seven.  A huge white bow in her hair.  In her mother’s arms.  A mass of people waving from the dock and from the three levels of the boat.  She hadn’t spoken a word of English.  She hand’t known her father.  He had crossed an ocean for an eventual better life for the three.  That picture is the eventual.

No matter the story I tell, you will project yourself into my words.  Her mother hugged and kissed the strange man.  That was her mother.  Hers to hug.  Hers to kiss.  Not the strange man’s to interfere with.  But he had flowers and balloons.  And he didn’t push.  And so the strange man wit gifts was the seven year old’s father.

If I write “can” you might take it as “could.”  Playing on the streets of Roosevelt taught her the language.  At home she spoke German.  AT home she was an only child.  At home her mother taught her to clean her plate.  To stand tall at five foot ten.

If I write “tomorrow” you might take it as “soon.”  There was a time in my life where I could run a mile in under eight minutes.  This only happened once.  We were only timed once.  Six and three quarters laps, or maybe it was seven, around the upper ring of the Stonybrook gym.  The exact time of the other constants we had to do I do not remember.  A mile run, jump ropes, sit-ups, push-ups, wall sits.  And then we could start practice.  Three hours.  Three times a week.  All weekend long tournaments.  This is what it sounded like.  It was not what that year consisted of.  We were the best of the best.  We could yawn through High School games and practices.  Not even blink an eye.  We were owed something.  That year we never came in first.

These are the decisions we make. I know of this woman.  And she sits by the inlet.  In a pale purple dress, which blows gently in the breeze.  Which blows in such a way that it describes the kind of person she is.  The kind of person the life she’s made has allowed her to be.  She sits on the end of the jetty.  Her hands wrapped around her knees, pulling them to her chest.  Her head resting against her curled body.  She has wispy graying hair, tied loosely back.  She can hear the children playing on the beach.  She can smell the restaurants cooking their meals. She can feel summer on her skin.  Her aging skin, wrinkled from the time she’s spent.  And the memories of the people she spent her time with.

These are the sentences we construct.  When she was a little girl she wanted to be an astronaut.  She wanted to fly to the moon, to Mars, an most of all Jupiter.  Maybe she wanted to get away.  Run away.  Be anywhere but home.  Maybe that ambition was what had started it.  The cycles.  Maybe we all have cycles.  Maybe some people call them phases. Maybe it is only out of habit.  Like breathing.  Maybe it is only out of need.  Like breathing.  Maybe it was only a cycle.  Like breathing.  Maybe if she didn’t allow it to continue she would die.  Like breathing.

This is the world we create.  When I started working there, the first thing I noticed was his eyes.  They had an incredible happiness behind them.  As though they had never known sadness.  As though they had never been hurt.  But still, they were wise.

These are the lives in which we project ourselves through.  Sometimes, especially towards the end of the night, he would be punching in an order while rubbing his left eye.  “Come on, only two more hours left.  You’re not giving up so soon are you?”  Those eyes would turn to me and just smile.  The night he asked me out he casually said, “So are we going out tonight?”  We played pool.  October 28th.  We drank wine and talked.  It still seems like I never left that couch.  As though, we’ve just kept talking.  As though I’ve been drunk on something other than red wine ever since that night.

Mother Theresa’s life was what the media tells you it was.  Some night I would catch myself in conversation.  Three hour long talks about characters in books.  About religion. About anything and everything.  About what we feared. About what we wanted.  He would tell me stories of his childhood as though he were still there.

It was what you thought you heard.  Sitting on the couch last night, I turned and faced him.  He smirked at e and said, “Did I ever tell you how much I love your eyes?”  I laid my head on his shoulder.  Draped my hand over his chest.  And didn’t say anything.  He told me once, in a hotel in Washington, that he sometimes expected me to say certain things back.  That I didn’t.  I told him I was terrified of certain words.  Actually, honestly, I wrote that I was terrified of certain words.  Certain phrases.  Certain forevers.  Certain out-louds.

To her it might just have been breathing. I’ve never read “Alice in Wonderland” all the way through.  But I swear it is my favorite book.  Alice never landed.  We all come back in the end.  Nothing ever leave us.

I will not change the world.  The church had cushions on all of the pews.  All were an ugly shade of maroon.  The fabric itches bare skin.  On the back of the pews closer to the front were remnants of a hearing aide system.  A small round metal piece with a lever that could be turned round and round.  The small pencils in the small little holders, with the small little “Join Us” cards, were best to use to turn the lever.  It was a circular congregation.  The balcony didn’t have the cushions on each pew.  Voices from upstairs echoed throughout the church.  From most seats in the balcony, large gothic looking lights that hung from the high ceiling would block the view of the front.

These words are not to keep you interested.  Marianne stood.  Jeans, boots, t-shirt, corduroy shirt unbuttoned, hair tied back, holding a cigarette with one hand, holding her backpack on her shoulder with the other.  At that moment there was nothing else to do.  Nowhere that would get her anywhere as far as going back would get her.  She had sold all of her belongings on thousand miles ago.  What she had now was ID, a pen, those cigarettes, that backpack and its clothes, and about twenty-three bucks.  And nothing to lose more than that.

These words are to keep air in my lungs.  In the kitchen a week ago I noticed a magnet on the refrigerator.  “There’s no place like home.”  My mother asked me a few days later, randomly, if I liked it.  I just smiled.  I had tacked a card up to the wall above her desk when I came home almost a year ago.  About journeys.  About Dorothy.  About Oz.  About demons.  About coincidence.  About ruby slippers.  About realizing that “all we have ever needed in our lives has always been there.”

Keep the in mind as you reconstruct my world.  I think I’ve always believed that a person should stand for something.  Be paying the part of something.  Be a someone who was getting somewhere, somehow.  I think I’ve always believed that some kind of struggle to obtain this would be best if possible.  I think I realized that no matter what I would be okay.  I think I’ve always believed that most people don’t know certain truths about themselves.

You do not need the whole story to understand what I am saying. 

Changing the Furniture

When she was a little girl she wanted to be an astronaut.  She wanted to fly to the moon, to Mars, and most of all Jupiter.  Maybe she wanted to get way.  Run away.  Be anywhere but home.  Maybe that ambition was what had started it.  The cycles.  Maybe we all have cycles.  Maybe some people call them phases.  Maybe it is only out of habit.  Like breathing.  Maybe it is only out of need.  Like breathing.  Maybe it was only a cycle.  Like breathing.  Maybe if she didn’t allow it to continue she would die.  Like breathing

The blue and white soldiers that covered the walls were replaced with lines of little red hearts on a white background.  The blue rug was ripped up for a pink lavender one.  On the walls hung a porcelain kitten, a ceramic rainbow, and a wooden Smurf holding up a red heart.  A blue certificate, given to her for being on the Principal’s List all four quarters in school was framed on the wall.  At eight years old, her feet didn’t touch the floor when she sat on the bed.  And the large amount of Precious Moments and other breakable porcelain object places on the dresser didn’t allow her to lean into the mirror.  Her favorite she kept on the shelf above her bed.  A young girl in a baseball uniform holding up a wedding gown.  Most people that knew her now find all except the last fact amusing.

From the window she could see the schoolyard.  The playground was made of wood, which at night left certain shadows that to her looked like a man holding a machine gun.  During days she stayed home sick from school she watched from that window and memorized the way people walked, what teachers left at what time.  She could see her neighbor building a bike ramp, and count how many times he and his friends fell.  Late at night she memorized what stars fell into the outlines of the trees that hung over from the neighbor’s yard.  Late at night she could also sometimes hear her parents fighting.

 The dresser was always on the east wall, the mirror always right above it.  The high bed with the pink comforter was always opposite it- pushed into the corner.  The desk was over the heating vent that the carpet-men had almost forgotten to cut a hole for.  Mostly the shelves in the room held books, stuffed toys, breakable figurines, an old boom box radio, and a jewelry box.  One held the cage of a guinea pig.  She never seemed to be there, even at that age, she always remembered being across the street at a friend’s house.

None of the things in her room ever moved.  They seemed fixed in this walled world of hers.  Her parents told her the furniture just wouldn’t fit right any other way.  It began to change when the wallpaper became a mesh of different flowers.  And the porcelain kitten, ceramic rainbow, and wooden Smurf came down off the walls and were put on the bttom shelf, behind some books.  The blue certificate was replaced with Softball plaques and trophies.  She must have been about eleven years old.  A few pictures went up on the walls.  Magazine pages.  Words.  Headlines from newspapers.  A picture of a comet colliding with Jupiter.  The amp became a string of colored Christmas lights.  The mirror came off the wall.  The friend across the street moved away, replaced with ones that lived across town in west and north directions.  

Eventually the bed was turned and the dresser moved.  The stereo replaced the Precious Moments on the dresser- there was no mirror to lean into anymore.  The breakables rested side by side on the thin shelf above her bed, the girl in the baseball uniform mixed in with all the others.  More books piled up onto the shelves.  Occasionally on some afternoons she spent time in her room with friends.  Listening to music.  Doing what kids at thirteen do.  Mostly nothing.  But mostly she was somewhere else doing nothing- across town.

More clippings began being stapled, not tacked onto the walls. Eventually they were stapled to the ceiling.  Overlapping and coming down again on the opposite wall from where the story had begun.  Pink Floyd and the Crow life size posters on every wall.  The furniture moved in circles around the room over a dozen times in the years she was an adolescent.  Mostly when season changed, report cards came out, her parents fought, her brother got engaged, her parents fought with him, and when she in turn fought with them.

Sometime, in some February, around age fifteen she convinced her father to cut the ceiling out- to make a high cathedral ceiling with a small loft shelf.  The walls were repainted a purple-blue.  By this time the mattress was off of the wooden beams that held it so high, and snuggled into the corner under the shelves in the wall.  The Christmas lights were rearranged and added to with a second string.  A T.V. went on the loft shelf.  Article by article things were put back on the wall.  The plaques and trophies put away, replaced by medallions from volleyball tournaments hung on doorknobs.  The ceiling was covered with paintings.  The photograph of a comet colliding with Jupiter went up above her desk.  Huge pillows were thrown into the corner.

Between play practices, friends, an older boyfriend, weekend parties, and volleyball practices she was rarely ever in that room either.  One weekend when her parents were away she painted “Meghan’s Pillows” above that corner.  She was drunk.  Meghan was her new best friend on the south side and, on the occasion they were there, she always sat in that corner.  Most weekends, though, she spent at someone else’s house.  Passed out.  Or driving around in someone else’s car.  Or just not home.

The Precious Moments had almost all been put away, except the baseball uniformed girl.  They were replaced with pewter dragons and wizards with crystal balls.  The Smurf, porcelain kitten, and ceramic rainbow all managed to be broken, put into boxes, and hidden in the basement.  Some of the books were replaced with rows of CDs.  A new, tall stereo covered the picture of Jupiter above her desk.

She began writing phrases on the walls.  Letter and stories from friends or for friends when up, many times over old articles and clippings.  One night at about ten-thirty she ripped up the pink-lavender carpet to unveil the wood floor beneath.  The furniture rotated again.  In the closest, behind the shelves she sometimes his liquor bottles.

By the time she had her license the walls were almost bare, compared to how they had once been.  One wall of articles and letters and pictures.  A few paintings and one poter spread out on the other three.  The ceiling was bare, except for the black charcoal fingerprints left from when she removed the artwork.  Little glow in the dark stars were staggered everywhere.  The desk was replaced with a black one.  The dresser was gone.  The pillows in “Meghan’s Corner” remained.  A stool and a stolen New York telephone sign with a cloth thrown over it made a night stand.

When no one else was home she was there.  Late at night she was there.  The wooden playground had been replaced with a safer hard plastic one.  There were new spotlights at night that left no shadows.  The teachers she once knew left earlier, and walked slower.  New neighbors moved in and put an in-ground pool in where the ramp once stood.  Her parents rarely fought anymore.  Her neighbor’s trees had grown bigger and covered the stars that used to outline them.  Empty liquor bottles accumulated in the closet.  Two or three empty cigarette boxes hid behind the books on the bottom shelf.

She moved the picture of Jupiter to the wall next to the mattress.  Tacked up right next to the words she had quoted.  Eventually she got a small area rug.  Eventually she moved the furniture around again, and the rug was rolled up and rolled out a few times.

In her last year of high school she was rarely ever home, except to sleep.  Or when her parents went away.  Or on quick stops between school and practices.  Or when she was sick.  Or during school vacations when no one else was home, like the one that she lost her virginity on.  The pink comforter from years before had been replaced with numerous amounts of blankets, that she sometimes folded on the corner of the bed.

Everything that had danced from shelf to shelf, or hung in the closet was fit into boxes and either left at a friend’s house or taken with her cross country when she was eighteen.  All of the letters and clippings were taken off of the wall and put into a box.  But less than two months later, she came back to that empty room.  The walls were painted orange, and blue and yellow, and green- sometimes meshed sometimes separate.  Her things, that were eventually shipped back, were placed back where they had at some point or another once stood.  Pictures and some letters went back up on the same wall.  Through the new paint, old quotes in black ink showed through.  Nothing much had really changed.

When she left again, to go away to school, she only tok what she would need.  When she came back two months later, to get the rest of her things because she was moving into her own house in Delaware, the room was filled with 2 by 4’s, boxes, her mother’s winter clothes, her brothers old equipment.  It was bare and filled with every one’s things, but her own.

When she came back for the last time her brother had painted the walls green.  The mattress was an air mattress that squeaked.  There was nothing else in the room except and orange cushion chair.  She filled the new green shelves with books and a mantle clock.  Her stereo was placed on top of the trunk she had brought home.  Eventually she bought a desk.  Eventually she got a new high bed, her feet touched the floor this time.  Eventually new paintings went up on the walls, as well as a few old ones.  Her brother had hung icicles lights around the room.  Her clothes hung in the closet on the same old hangers.

The trees had grown too large to see into the schoolyard in the summer, but in the winter she noticed that a few teachers must have retired.  The new neighbors had put an extension on the house.  New swings replaced old rusty ones.  One of the trees had fallen down next door.

Se still was never home much, expect when she was sick.  Or in between work and school.  Or sleeping. Sometimes because she could, and because it was so quiet with no one else home- se would do what she had always done.  Just sit and watch out the window- at nothing at all.

She hung the picture of a comet colliding with Jupiter next to the window, on the side where the trees once outlined by stars that she could count on.  Where a man with a machine gun once guarded her at night.  Where people once walked faster, with certain youthful strides.  Where neighbors were once active, and didn’t lie around the pool all day.  Where she used to listen and think, “Well… at least they’re not ignoring each other.”  Where when she was a little girl she wanted to be an astronaut.  She wanted to fly to the moon, to Mars, and most of al Jupiter.

She changed the furniture and pictures on the walls of her room around what seemed like a million times.  Her friends and family no longer became surprised at the changes.  Fights, decisions, successes, failures, new years, new loves, new friends, a change in mind.  Change.  “Every time something in your life changes, so does the furniture in your room.”  That was what her friends said.

 What I would say if she asked me is this:

No one can say anything about leaving him.  You can’t change changed feelings and no one can ask you to explain.  You fell in love with him.  You just did.  You didn’t necessarily mean to.  And under any other circumstances it might have been easier.  Not truthful, just more aware.  Able.

You and him don’t owe each other anything.  You were together for what, three years?  He was to you a lot of things.  Those things you don’t forget.  Those things you will catch yourself thinking about at random times in your life.  Solitarily.  And when you’re looking into the face of your own daughter.  It will happen.  It won’t leave you. It shouldn’t.  There’s something incredible in those first years of realizing you had that in you.  

Loyalty.  You were loyal to each other.  Whatever you say now about betrayals and the things we do to each other they do not equal disloyalty.  Loyalty in the sense that you knew you loved him.  He knew he loved you.  You knew when that wasn’t the case anymore.  Whatever the reasons.  There were no reasons.  People just fall away.  Loyal enough to know to leave.  Circumstances being what they were, maybe leaving was too late.  Maybe if there wasn’t only one wall in between the whole scenario it would have played out differently.  Maybe if you hadn’t left across an ocean it wouldn’t seem so sudden.  Coming home and rearranging.  

Maybe the image of him driving a mini-van wasn’t quite what should have been said.  Too soon do we come up with all of the possible outcomes.  All the possible ways this could go.  What would be said.  How much time would pass.  What this now would mean later.  Idle conversation, of course.  But not really.  

Changing of the guards.  One circumstance to another.  Home.  A hurting family.  Lines in the road.  Forgetting all of that.  Houses in the winter in a summer haven.  Reassessing importance.  Learning too much, too well about the person lying under the same blankets at night.  All of your education taught you not to mix chemicals with reality.  Not if you wanted it to last.  Maybe not teaching those winter houses a thing about that once upon a time Home.  Too much space and not enough letting go.  But the spiral staircase was a nice touch.  Plunging on one level.  Circular on the other.  

But no, no one can tell you about that kind of decision.  It was perchance that who you left him for was so close.  It was perchance that you were leaving him for someone else.  Anything else.  Replacement actors.  Unaware of certain points.  Was it perchance that he was the way he was?  Was it perchance that you couldn’t change that?  You told him once that you wouldn’t take care of him if he got sick like that.  Said you couldn’t go through that kind of healing again, from any angle.  You wouldn’t try to.  Ironic since your mother’s words might have changed his mind, but she hadn’t said any.  

What gets me most is not what you did.  Or even who you went to.  What gets me is the friend.  A young man who has spent his lifetime surrounded by people who called themselves his friends.  In return he mocked them.  And they thought him clever for it.  Friends that he betrayed.  Funny thing is, that all makes such sense.  The reasons equal those years.  But this friendship was different.  Loyalty.  An understanding that most people never find.  A certain amount of trust in a different sense of the word.  But maybe he can’t be blamed for the exchange.  If it is there, then it is there.  Every other time it was explained as stealing from a friend.  Now it was a slue of things.  Circumstances.  Reasons.  But loyalty was not one.  Mostly I am unable to comprehend throwing away that kind of friendship.  

From the drivers seat that night I tried to tell him that you weren’t the only one of your kind.  Although it felt like the world had opened and some ironic, sarcastic twist was told, it wasn’t so.  You are amazing.  But so is everyone else.  He’s not the type to say hello.  But when he got out of the car and the light turned on, I could see that he was crying.  

The ironic things.  He helped build the bed that you now sleep on with his best friend.  His greatest fault was being his father’s son.  He never truly knew your father.  You knew what he was from the beginning.  The beginning was so long ago.  Sex breeds assumption, but not truth.  Betrayal breeds resentment, but not anger.  Rage breeds a fish bowl glance, but not walking shoes.  A house of friends.  Drugs.  Too many books and too much paint and ink.  Put too many artists in one house and shapes are bound to form.  Give them cocaine and false bonds are bound to stick.  But those weren’t the only reasons.

The unfortunate things.  Two whole years in winter houses made as summer homes.  Unlocked doors and untold secrets.  You all knew where it was going.  School certainly teaches things.  

I won’t say what I would have done.  Physical strength.  Mental clarity and walking shoes.  I’m not you.  At different points in my own life both were interesting ideas.  Fall in love with an artist and your walls will never be bare.  Fall in love with an artist whose main medium is black ink on thick paper and you might find yourself with a half-finished man.  In the process of finished.  Finishing.  Not realizing what the journey might request of you, and you might find yourself in a home made for the summer in the dead of winter with no locks on the doors.  

If you ask me I’ll say you’ve done nothing that couldn’t have been foreseen a year ago or more.  But you won’t ask me.  A year ago or more it had already begun.  Who didn’t see it coming?  Changes.  All the possible outcomes.  All the ways this could go.  

 What she might say if I asked her:

No one can say anything about the bond between two people.  Or the legal circumstances that they choose to add to that bond.  It wasn’t so weird that all of a sudden there was this person in your life.  This semi-real person that didn’t belong to anything of the past before it.  Semi-real because you never really said anything.  No one can say anything about not saying anything.  Because it wasn’t silence.  Under other circumstances.  Under other addresses he might have been more real.  

Maybe it feels as though it hasn’t been two and a half years.  Maybe I walk into your house and I forget that all of this time has gone by.  Maybe I see you forgetting too.  Maybe we never thought forgetting time would be so easy.  Slightly thrown off by being unaffected.  Maybe I can’t get past the image of a solitary girl.  Maybe there’s something that tells me you just couldn’t function in any other way but alone.  

We used to say it in letters.  Descriptions so deep.  So often long-winded.  Overdrawn.  Mostly false.  But hopeful.  I once said of someone else that, “you needed each other.”  But we never really mean those things.  Maybe too many anthologies are never good for a person who came of age through pens and pencils.  I never heard you say it.  Never saw it written down.  I didn’t know it had happened.  And then one day I am visiting an orange-carpeted apartment.

Changing of the guards.  One circumstance to another.  Riding around in cars.  Cigarettes and docks.  The assumption of reality.  Real.  One year without an address.  Relationships of no clear consequence.  A summer in Montauk.  Reassessing importance.  Finding someone who would answer you back.  Stay up nights just talking.  Your education taught you that little of this was real.  These things happened all the time.  People go home with their makeup smudged all the time.  But maybe it sounded like a good idea.  

You knew that summer, even when he wasn’t there.  You knew I wouldn’t stop by so much.  Some things just change.  I never got used to the idea.  I never get used to any ideas.  But I can’t say it wasn’t a good one.  A right one.  A sensible one.  A heartfelt one.  Replacement actors.  We all have people come and go in ours lives.  Your education told you it wasn’t so easy.  Past with future.  Past with right now.  That first summer, those were steep stairs.  

It was completely perchance that you stopped there that September.  That you meet him.  That you moved out of that little pink house.  That your brother’s future wife moved in.  That he meet her.  Perchance that it was timed so well.  Strange world.  Chance.  The one you’ve always blindly believed in.  Things working out.  I remember you tried to end it all once.  But he wouldn’t let you.  Maybe it wasn’t so chance.  He was the first one who didn’t let you leave.  You know that.

The ironic things.  Three years ago you would have laughed at this image.  You changed.  Or he changed you.  I never heard you say you wanted this.  I never saw you write you wanted this.  I don’t know what this is.  I never heard you say this.  I never saw you write this.  

I won’t say what I would have done.  The idea of an image.  Immediacy.  Legal bindings.  The image of a woman on a train ride.  The image of a ring.  Fall in love with a man with a French accent and you can always be calmed by the sound.  Fall in love with a man from a different world and you might find yourself with thicker things to work through than that once called long-winded love called for.  Working for it.  Working through it.  Not remembering that you once said it shouldn’t take work.  You might find yourself still staring out at the water.  Even after all of these years.

If I asked her she might say I haven’t done anything that surprised her.  But I wouldn’t ask.  It was inevitable.  Changes.  All the possible outcomes.  All the ways this could go.  

 Uneven Postcards

I never thought about the idea of postcards before.  It never occurred to me that only the pretty places would show up on them.  The café in Sidi Bou Said that I painted for him is actually quite far up a hill.  That never occurred to me either.  Postcards aren’t real things.  

As we were landing I saw a greenhouse that looked as though it were still in use.  Immediately I thought that it looked exactly like a greenhouse in New York.  He asked me if I thought it was hot.  I said I didn’t know.  I don’t know if it ever hit me that I was physically three thousand miles away and couldn’t get back without some kind of ticket from some kind of company.  My mother was amazed that I could call her from another country to her cell phone.

During the ride from the airport to the house I decided it was hot.  In certain sections, the buildings looked like cracking white painted replicas of the buildings in Harlem that you see on the news.  The plants on the side of the road I had spent the summer watering in the Hamptons.  Ridiculously priced in New York, they grew like wild fire all along the roads ways.  Immediately I noticed that no one paid attention to the lines painted on the road.  There were a lot of taxis.  

His mom was sitting in between us.  She held onto both of our hands and kissed our wedding rings.  At first she always seemed like she was crying to me, maybe with tears of happiness.  As time went on I guess I came to understand that she always was thinking of her family.  That always made her happy.  That always made her have that sad look on her face.  That enchanted mother look.  You know it.  You’ve felt it too.  Or your mother has.  It is the same there.

I guess I’ve never seen a postcard of an American street corner.  Only large well-known buildings, dams, or mountains.  Maybe a sunset near some resort town.  Or those horrible Christmas card postcards of family you can’t name.  I guess postcards of Harlem don’t exist either.  Maybe a trailer park down South has a few for sale at the front office, but probably more as a joke.  

I don’t know what I had expected to see.  He had seen most of my childhood places.  I told him I would take him cross-country with me someday.  I told him he didn’t want to move out of New York because he had never really been outside of it before.  I have told him I couldn’t live on the island for very much longer.  There were better places.  So maybe that’s why I never thought to consider what it would be like.  What it would look like, feel like, smell like, sound like.  

Tunisian used to sound very angry to me.  When we first met, he would be on the phone with someone and I would think he was yelling at the person on the other end.  For months I never picked up on where words began or ended.  The only words I knew he had to repeat to me over and over again.  

I learned French for him.

As time has gone on, I have somehow come to understand what it is that he is talking about.  In Tunisia this became much more apparent than it had ever been in New York.  He would make plans with friends over the phone and I could understand that that was what he was doing.  Learning a language in order to become part of a certain world is different than the Spanish I had learned in Middle School.  Certainly the Spanish let me be polite to Maria, the dessert girl at the restaurant where he and I worked, but it didn’t make me part of her world any more than she was a part of mine.  

Knowing a place beyond the postcard locations is an entirely different understanding.  A friend works with Americans for the company that builds embassies all over the world.  I asked him where the Americans he worked with learned Tunisian.  He laughed and said none ever do.  They never even consider the idea.  It is not necessary.  If they are not in the office, they are in the hotel.  They never need to learn anything.  I wonder if they send postcards home.  I wonder if email has changed the face of the postcard industry.  The face of what some American businessman’s daughter knows about Africa.  

Repeatedly throughout the month and a half he and I talked about eventually spending months at a time in Tunisia.  We would split our United States years up with hot Tunisian summers.  That had been the plan we had always talked about before leaving.  Before leaving, the pictures of the country looked to me like beautiful postcards of an amazing landscape with a strong sense of tradition.  Oddly it never occurred to me that what I had seen were only postcards of the most beautiful areas.  I had been a computer screen tourist up until I stepped off of that plane.  And even then I was still only an American woman who happened to be married to a Tunisian man.  Both of who seem to have the notion that neither label really mattered.  

Not shown in the postcards are certain facts.  The Tunisian president, Ben Ali, has flags put up the night before he plans to travel to Parliament.  Every time he travels flags line the street for miles, the white lines of the roads are repainted, and the roadside shrubs are cleaned up.  If his car were to turn right instead of left he would see roads wrecked by the recent flood and garbage lining the drains.  But his car turns left instead.  “There will be no peace until philosophers are kings.”  Not on the postcards.  

Not shown in the pictures of camels, white buildings with blue doors, or alleyways of small shops are certain issues.  Oprah is on at four o’clock, with Arabic subtitles.  The idea of black and white didn’t occur to most people there.  Andy said these people are Africans, but they never think to notice a person’s skin.  That is an American thing.  

Driving down any given street at any given time you are bound to come up along side a car with American rap songs blasting.  I asked his brother if he knew what Eminem was talking about in the songs on the CD we listened to all the time.  He said yes and then I asked him to explain them.  He just smiled at me.  I guess it is ironic that so many young people listen to rap music for the beat of it.  Many of them would want to move to America for the freedom, for the opportunity, for the money.  The same freedom, opportunity and money that those songs say does not truly exist. 

Not on the postcards is the continuation of history.  One night he, Saida, and I went into the Carthage theatre just as a concert was letting out.  We walked up to the top of the seats.  I thought it was a good thing it wasn’t in the States; the whole effect would have been ruined by railings and other safety precautions.  The Roman ruins that we saw on our tour had no ropes or other devices to block people from walking anywhere they choose to.  About three football fields worth of ruins of an ancient city left completely opened.  No gates, no nighttime light to keep down on the graffiti, nothing to block anyone.  As we walked through we could hear scorpions in the grasses that were left uncared for growing around the city.

Postcards don’t show these things.  The look of mothers.  The sound of a language after so long.  The process of coming into a world.  The whys or the desires.  The absorption of history into the present.  That there is no “they.”  Postcards don’t show what any of that truly means either.  They are an unbalanced measure of what a traveler has seen, or not seen.  I sent my cousin’s so Tyler a postcard of a camel before I ever saw one.  Only the tourists ride the camels in Tunisia.  

The Words That We Use To Describe

I remember waking up to the sound of a garbage truck backing down the driveway at Andy’s apartment.  Somehow in my mind, the sound of the truck, so blunt and irrational, mimicked the way the Tunisian Andy and his friends spoke sounded to me.  That was three years ago.  

Cheryl and I used to talk about trying to distinguish between where words began and ended.  Andy’s friend Yassine would often try to get me to say things to Andy in Tunisian that I did not understand, like Habibi or my love.  During that time I did not learn many words, but I did learn a lot about the depths of humor in these young men.  I remember thinking that they reminded me a lot of my father.  

The first time I ever tried to barter Andy had snuck away to leave me alone to go at it.  In Tunisian I asked the seller “How much?”

“Five dinar.”

“Too much money.  Two dinar.”

“Four dinar.”  The man smiled at me.  

“Um… Two and this.”  I stuck two fingers straight up and then a third only halfway.  I smiled back at the man.  “I don’t know this.” 

“Five dinar for this one and another.”

“No, too much.”  I held my two and a half fingers up again.

“Okay, okay.”

I turned to find where Andy had gone.  Over the heads of about ten other people on the tour with us I yelled for Andy.  I had no money on me for that entire month and a half; he always was with me.  Andy walked over and I told him I needed two and a half dinars.  He looked at the man and spoke to him in Tunisian.  He handed him the money and said thank-you.  So did I.  The man smiled at me.  Andy said the people weren’t used to tourists trying to speak Tunisian.  I put the small, carved bird (that to me looked Egyptian) in my pocket and latched my arm around his.

Leaving the tour bus the next day, Mohamed Ali stopped us all to tell us something about the area we were visiting.  From a far corner of the street a man started to walk towards the group with a box filled with batteries, bracelets, and other random things.  He picked one thing up and motioned towards me as I walked, “One dinar.”  

I looked him straight in the eye and with a smile said, “No thank-you” in Tunisian.  The man stopped walking, looked at me, repeated what I said and then chuckled.  I looked at him and then Andy who was standing next to me the whole time.  

“What did I say?”

“No, you said it right.  I think he just didn’t expect a tourist to say anything back to him in Tunisian.”  

The tour group had about thirty minutes to look around the stores and meet back at the bus.  Andy wanted to find new sandals for his grandmother so we walked around to find a store.  There are stores for just about any clothing item you want, especially gift-like items.  

Andy told his father that I have been learning Tunisian.  I picked up the phone and told him, “Carba tammel barsha hess.”  It means, “The car makes a lot of noise.”  After laughing a little, his father asked if I had been recording the whole summer.  Andy said he felt stupid for not working on my Tunisian for the past three years.  I told him there was a lot about me he didn’t know, that I told him three years ago that I knew everything he ever said, but just didn’t want to impress him all at once.  

You probably need to know the language when you go to a foreign country.  You need to know how to ask for milk, or bread, or what the signs say (especially when a lot of them are written solely in Arabic).  When you are in a foreign country you don’t get to see the hidden away beaches or the local life.  You don’t get to get lost with the same kind of ease as you would at home.  You’re not able to find the best sandwich shop in the north.  You do get into the hotels by speaking English though.  

The only time I ever felt as though I were away was at the hotels.  We would go to the hotels for the pools.  I would have to drive, since they were less likely to charge an American saying her parents were staying at the hotel for admission.  They only seemed perplexed by the hologram background on my New York license.  

I did not need to know the language or be able to read the signs.  We got lost with less ease than we do in New York.  We found the best sandwich shop in the north.  I went to the hidden beaches and saw the local life.  I was part of the local life.  Of course I must have been the American Mohamed married to some.  I must have been the American staying for the summer.  The tall blonde that would come out of the house everyday in a tank top, shorts, visor, and sunglasses, holding a volleyball and a bottle of water.  I have never looked that Long Island in my life.  To some I might be their image of Americans recreated.  To some I was created out of what they already thought of Americans.  To the family I found I had there, I was the woman that was keeping their son safe and happy in America.  I was the woman who was giving them a grandson and nephew.  And I was the one in the family that ate everything with a fork and not a spoon.  

 Movements II

I’m not going to tell you about what I saw or what we did.  I am going to tell you what it did to me.  

I’ve lost what I could have said about the place.  Four years ago I must have been searching for something.  I certainly didn’t know that at the time.  Never realized what it was that I was doing.  Never realized that it wasn’t motion that was making my mind go and it wasn’t time that was sorting everything out.  Maybe we all suffer from the preoccupation that traveling somewhere is going to give us a kind of freedom not found at home.  Somehow going somewhere is going to allow us to come back with clear minds and able hearts.  

There is of course that saying, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”  Well of course it does.  Maybe what we miss is what the saying doesn’t cover.  Staying can make it grow fonder too.  Maybe what we miss in travel, in the idea of travel, is that you cannot leave them when you go.  “Remember me… but let me go.”

Four years ago.  Four years ago my best friend’s father died.  Four years ago I gave up four hard fought years to go to Seattle.  Four years ago I lived in a little pink house with a spiral staircase.  Four years ago I worked in a bookstore by the ocean.  There were large pink trees lining the main road.  They were putting a drainage system in that Spring.  They must have assumed that sarcasm and from New York meant the same thing.  Four years ago I packed all of my belongings into boxes and cars and a Winnebago.  Seven times in four years.  

My parents must have been relieved when Andy asked to marry me.  My father told him, “You know she’s not the easiest person…”  Andy took it as a joke, as did I.  But I know he meant it too.  My mother told him to stop calling Tunisia home.  This was his home now.  They must have been relieved in one way.  Terrified that three thousand miles west could be driven to by car, but three thousand miles east could not.  They are all still waiting for me to become domestic before they realize the immensity of three thousand miles.  

What I could have said about the place I was has been overshadowed by what I think I’ll say about it in five years.  Overshadowed by the eruptions in my stomach.  Overshadowed by the fact that there isn’t a them or a me.  What I could have said has been overshadowed by the fact that I have to say it.  I have to write it down.  Last time I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget.  Like her father putting pictures into frames, as though she might forget if she didn’t do it quick enough.  

Maybe I wouldn’t have had to write it down if I had seen them everyday.  If M and B had been part of my everyday I wouldn’t have to write the down.  If all the rest had not been fleeting, had not been temporary, had not been everything but forward.  Andy is my everyday.  The family I met is burned into my mind.  Still-life photos.  It would be like forgetting where your mother keeps the Tupperware covers.  The image of the couple we met in the Redwoods on our way to Seattle, I do not remember.  They are imaginary figures.  They might as well have been waving to us from a train.  Fleeting.  I remember the outline of the telephone booth I called Brian from.  I remember the amount of steps it took to get from one side of the back porch to the other in Seattle where I called him again.  Pacing.  Rocking.  

There was nothing to rock me to sleep at night in Tunisia.  There were no trains.  Certainly there were long stretches of land.  An entire dry lake canvassing hundreds of miles, filling Science Fiction movies.  But four years later I found that I didn’t need that image, those images.  That rocking.  Andy’s shoulder was enough to fall asleep on.  

Four years ago I would have laughed if you told me this is where I would be.  Africa was not on my list of places to visit.  England seemed much more romantic.  As did living in New York City.  In June, the idea of living in Tunisia seemed ideal to me.  I even told people that I might not come back.  While we were there, I believe this idea slipped away from me.  I could not see living there with the same ease as I do here.  But we stayed too long and too close to family while we were there.  We did not find our Tunisia on this trip.  

I found a family, never realizing the enormity of three thousand miles east of New York.  I found a reference point for Andy’s childhood stories.  I found a reference point for his childhood and a way to make sense of him as a father in America and in Tunisia.  I found out that his grandmother’s hands are of the same soft texture as my grandmother’s hands.  I found out that he was someone’s eldest brother.   I found out that he was someone’s American son.  

What I realize now is ownership.  I left Seattle because I could never see myself making a life for myself amongst those people (and because I was eighteen and stupid).  I could not own Seattle or Delaware like I thought I owned the winding streets of Long Island.  I could never find the people that made that kind of ownership of a place possible.  At first I thought the same thing about Tunisia.  I could not truly be entirely myself among the family there or the friends that we would make over any amount of years.  But I left too early, jumped to too many conclusions.  I realized this as I told my mother we were not going to come for Christmas night appetizers and dessert.  I realized this today on a swing set for the first time together, and I saw that Andy didn’t know how to swing on his own, he had never been.  I realized we have a life together.  There is nothing to be forged.  We would have the same life together on Mars as in the summer heat of Tunisia or the three-foot snow drifts of New York.  Geography could not change that.  

My conclusion?  My so what?  I don’t have to write it down.  I haven’t been anywhere in the past three years that didn’t feel precisely like home.  


Written around 2006.

The Worst Days

         The worst were the alone days, she thought. The days when she couldn’t get Ford to respond to anything. It felt so often like what chasing after a boy in middle school was like. As if there was just one thing, one tiny thing that she could do to make him love her. That maybe the boy she was chasing did love her, he just didn’t know how to show his affection for her.

         That the boy ever did indeed love her was, of course, she added in her head, a huge assumption.

         Alone days felt like continual rejection. Followed by extreme self-hatred and anger.

         Usually alone days resulted in massive cleaning projects. She had once swept decades’ old dirt from the corners of the dingy, unfinished basement on a day like that. She had done it dressed in clothes she might go out to dinner in. A bra that fit. A shirt that showed cleavage. Heeled clogs that accented her calves. The first in a series of alone days was always the worst. The series always snuck up on her. A decade’s old pattern she had no radar for whatsoever.

         She hadn’t gone down to the basement to sweep. She had gone down there to make a statement about shared responsibilities by way of taking up the laundry he had started, but never finished that she needed to fold before X left for a week with his grandparents. She came up sweating so much that she needed to stand in front of the AC for fifteen minutes before her arms stopped sweating enough to actually fold the clothes.


         They knew that this week alone without kids was coming for months ahead of time. The had been mildly excited together planning out the idea of being without kids for a week and both taking off from work. As the week got closer and closer, neither of them planned or prompted a conversation about what they might do.

         When asked by a friend at the block party they attended in their old neighborhood the day before, Ford had answered, “Oh, you know, day trips to the beach.” It was the first she had heard him mention any idea.


         On the first day that they were alone in the house together, she asked him to rub her neck and shoulders that were tense from perhaps sleeping on them wrong or just plain lethargic disobedience of her muscles. Tension, perhaps. He asked what he was going to get out of it in return.

         This is perhaps what relationships become – an economy of goods and services.

         It was usually by day for of the alone days series that her eyes would linger on his bulging stomach, his unkept hair. She’d start noticing how often he picks at his skin. How much she hates his beard. How gross his toenails had gotten.

         These are not fair observations, she thinks.

         And pointing out how she never points them out to him during a fight last month likely wasn’t very productive, even if it was merely to contrast how often he makes her feel fat, ugly, lazy, and unwanted. The middle school girl chasing the boy was just glad to still have him paying attention enough to notice that she was sometimes and sometimes always a little of those things.

         She had no idea whether he felt as bad about himself. She did however know that it was even less productive to, by day five of alone days to have gone through two therapy sessions in her head with him about his own feelings of inadequacy and how that gets projected onto her and their relationship.


         He hadn’t mentioned how tidy the basement looked. Or that he didn’t have to finish the laundry. Or that she had packed everything X needed. He didn’t ask if she had heard from Y, who had been overseas for over a week already. He didn’t like her changed profile picture. He didn’t ask her what the interview she had coming up was for. He didn’t congratulate her when she found out she was going to be teaching her first college-level writing courses that fall.

         She tallies these all up by day six of alone days.

         He gave short answers about how his 25 snakes were, how his work day was, whether his the eviction of his mother’s tenants had happened for his mother. When he announced that his friend wanted to come up and stay for a few days with four of their kids, noting that his mother would also need to come up to check up on the eviction, it didn’t occur to him to make sure these didn’t occur on their week together without kids.

         Their unplanned, but nevertheless happening week without the kids.


         She felt like crying all of the time.

What He Wasn’t

He is the kind of man that sits in an oversized, but not too soft burgundy leather armchair.  He wears a sweater, pleated pants, and brown shoes almost everyday.  He reads biographies by the fire.  His wife bought him that watch.  His glasses do not slip on his nose, he’s not that kind of person.  He is incredibly smart.  Calm.  Poised.  Constantly amused.  Rarely challenged.  He owns handkerchiefs.  He doesn‘t wear a wedding band on either hand.  He collects maps, and books.  Fancy pens have never attracted him.  He drinks scotch.  And white wine.  A chardonnay.  He eats his eggs hard boiled, not scrambled.  He used to smoke cigarettes.  But not for very long.  He’s always worn his hair combed back like that.  He rides his bicycle in the spring and the fall.  Maybe sometimes on cool summer nights.  He goes for long walks.  He wears a cap and a scarf.  He’s gentle.  He’s not an only child.  He had children.  He took his children to museums.  To libraries.  To the zoo.  He listens to jazz.  He buys antiques, but nothing too outrageous.  He doesn’t often think about his past.  

He was an old man when his granddaughter was born.  His clam chowder was just about ready when the phone rang.  His son-in-law told him that they had named her Emma.  The only phone in the house was in the hallway.  From where he was standing he could see the chowder boiling.  “That is just wonderful, Jonathan.”  He knew he should have turned the flame off, or at least down.  Jonathan’s voice was rambling in his ear.  Something about the house in the morning.  “Yes, yes.  That sounds fine.  Good-bye.”  

Quickly he hung up the phone.  The stove would have to be wiped down entirely now.  Using a small ladle, Howard poured his chowder into a small white bowl with green trim.  His tea had cooled off to just the right temperature.  He placed his bowl of chowder and his mug in the appropriate spots within the place setting.  Howard set down and began to gently blow on his chowder.    The house was completely silent.  

It wasn’t that he was a horrible father.  Nor was it that he would be a horrible grandfather.  To the contrary, he would probably be a wonderful grandfather.  As grandfathers are supposed to be, he would be traditional.  Learned.  Not eager enough to be stern.  Surprised at young children reading books or going fishing.  Some would say he was patient, others would know he was indifferent.

Howard was anything but a wonderful father.  Only once though did it ever cross his mind that he was a father and that the fact was completely peculiar.  Almost hysterical.  His own father had died in the war, exactly one year before he even muttered the word “Mama.”  As a boy, father to him was an old photograph of a man with a pair of wings on his jacket.  As a man father to him meant filling his space with small footsteps.  A sort of responsibility to take these young beings around him to places with him.  Walk with them up thick marble staircases of museums very quietly.  To take walks through central park past the rocks and monuments, where they could climb and run around.  To sit across from his wife at the table and cut the meat into small enough slivers for their little mouths.  

He never thought to wonder what he was to his children.  Howard never thought in terms like that.  Accountability and meaning did not coincide in Howard’s mind.  It wasn’t who he was.  He wasn’t a wonderful father.  He was a man whose father wore wings.

For only one moment, in all of those years of small feet around him, did he remember that he was anyone’s father.  In front of the Metropolitan Museum, he reached into his pocket to find a lighter.  The three had just walked out of the museum and were still standing on the steps.  It was late November, the wind was bitterly cold.  The two small children that were with him shivered in their wool coats and gloves.  As he turned his face down and cupped one hand over the other to light his cigarette, his eyes caught the image of those two children.  Watching him.  The cigarette was lit and a cloud of smoke came from his breath.  Howard quickly turned his sight to the street.  “Quickly, we can still make the 7:30 train.”  He didn’t reach for their hands, nor did he place his hands on their backs.  He just began on down the stone steps, the two young children following behind.  


The audience applauded as young Marcel thought of the look on his father’s face.  Marcel had told the other children at the theatre that his father had fought in the war.  He was a general.  Sometimes he was called to duty suddenly in the night.  Marcel’s father was a drunk.  The night before young Marcel had walked to the saloon to help his father home.  The bartender pointed to the stairs when Marcel walked in.  Marcel looked at the man perplexed, normally his father sat at the corner stool.  “Your dad’s the old man with the metal chain right?”  Marcel just stared at the man.  “He’s upstairs kid, first room on the right.”  

The staircase was decorated with cedar and red velvet.  The hallway reeked of perfumes.  Young Marcel knocked on the door and it gently swung opened.  On the bed was his father, passed out and snoring.  Sitting up next to him was a woman dressed in a corset with a single red feather in her hair.  “Hello handsome.”

Marcel nodded his head at her and said only, “He is my father.”  

The woman stood up from the bed and walked towards Marcel.  She put one hand on the top of his head.  His eyes were locked on the image of his drunken father fully dressed and sleeping.  “I suppose than that I’m the lucky one- I don’t have to take him home.”  She paused and looked back at the old man.  “Not now anyway.  He’s been like that for about an hour.”

“Thank-you ma’am.”  Marcel swallowed hard and walked towards the bed.  He lifted his father’s hand and sat him up.  “Father it’s late.”

Marcel walked his father home, mostly with the old man leaning harshly on the young boy’s shoulder.  A single light on the corner lead the way, but it was unnecessary.  Marcel did this many nights.  He had never; however, seen his father asleep with a hooker in the room.  He had never seen his father’s face as he slept.  His father’s face was like that of a child.  Careless.  At ease.  Safe.  Gentle.

In the morning nothing would be spoken about the night before.  Marcel had not seen, since he was a boy and foolish enough to look, the look in his father’s eyes after he had been drinking.  Young Marcel’s father drank every night, now that things had changed.

A rose landed at Marcel’s feet as the applause continued.  He looked down at it, but did not pick it up.  He looked back up into the crowd.  The people staring back at him, the people applauding, they were someone’s fathers.  The children sitting next to them, they were sons and daughters.  Young Marcel was someone’s son.

Young Marcel had a dream the night before.  He had laid his father down in his bedroom and placed a glass of water on the nightstand.  he walked back out into the small living room and sat on the couch.  For a moment he paused and listened.  Marcel could hear his father snoring.  He had not dared to look at him again in his sleep.

Young Marcel had fallen asleep to the sound of his father’s breathing in the next room.  He dreamt about city streets lined with beggars.  Lined with orphans.  Red roses climbed the walls of the city.  Gray skies shifted a hundred miles downward to enclose the snow globe that became Marcel’s dreams.  As Marcel walked through his dream without speaking, he heard a young boy calling from a balcony above.  When Marcel looked up the boy dropped a single rose, which appeared in Marcel’s hands.  In the dream Marcel remembered being brought to tears by this.  As he woke his fingers reached for his eyes.

Young Marcel’s father was always gone when he woke.  When Marcel’s mother died early in the winter before, the two began an agreed upon habit.  If Marcel retrieved his father from the saloon each night, his father would have a meal on the table each morning when Marcel woke.  This was their affection.

Once in the entire year Marcel had seen his father outside of the saloon.  On his mother’s birthday he had visited her grave.  Before entering the cemetery he noticed a man standing near where he remembered her grave being.  He had not expected it to be his father.  Young Marcel did not approach his father either.  he stood behind the large metal fence and watched.  The man just stood there looking down at the stone slab.  He did not move.  Young Marcel did not move.  For those moments perhaps they were a family again.

Marcel had never seen his father drink before his mother died.  He would not have known, and maybe would not have ever seen him again if Marcel had not happened to see him walk into the saloon on his way home from the theatre.  Young Marcel, who had just lost his mother was in no condition to lose his father.  And so, young Marcel waited outside of the saloon until they closed and walked his drunken father home.  Every night after, the same thing occurred.  

His father had laid out a complete set of silverware, one orange, and a tea bag.  Marcel opened the oven to find a plate of French toast.  Marcel bowed his head for a minute without saying or thinking anything and than began to eat.  The clock in the living room chimed eight o’clock.  Marcel had enough time to stop by Miss Bordeaux’s flat to bring her milk before he had to be at the theater.

Miss Bordeaux was an old friend of Marcel’s mother.  He had been told when he was very young what the relation between them had been, but had long since forgotten.  Marcel knew that this woman had been close to his mother.  Marcel’s mother had brought her flowers every week.  Even though Miss Bordeaux’s house was surrounded by flower beds.  However strong the relationship had been, Marcel had not ever heard Miss Bordeaux speak of his mother.  They both knew the memory.  Neither needed to go over it out loud.  Marcel cannot remember an image of his mother beside Miss Bordeaux that is real.  But somehow he always pictures his mother walking beside him an happily saying hellos to Miss Bordeaux.

The streets always made Marcel look down as he walked.  He liked to see the shadows each stone brick made onto the one next to it.  The shadows moved around each other.  At midday there were no shadows.  At midday he stared at the endless stream of stone building in his town.  A large amount of vines and flowers hung down from each balcony as if they themselves were what held the buildings up.  The buildings stood by the color and the strength of the nature.  

As a child Marcel would draw buildings by drawing their flowers first.  Marcel did not know the color of Miss Bordeaux’s house.  He only knew the colors that the season brought to the flowers that lined the stairs through her front garden.  Marcel followed the lines of bushes that led to her front door.  He placed his satchel on the bench outside and walked through the opened doorway.    

Miss Bordeaux had never been married as far as Marcel knew.  She sometimes spoke of a little girl, but Marcel never assumed she was speaking about her daughter.  Aside from him and his mother, Marcel also did not think she saw anyone.  Miss Bordeaux was beautiful.  She had smile lines that dictated her former life.  Whenever Marcel looked at her, he imagined her twenty years younger.  

Marcel walked through the house, placing the milk as he went by the refrigerator.  At the back of the house stood Miss Bordeaux.  In front of her was an easel piled with paper.  In her right hand she held a brush.  In her left, a glass of wine.  She did not turn as he walked up next to her.  She did not say hello either.  She had told Marcel once that she was tired of saying goodbye so much in her life, so she had given up saying hello.

“Your opening was last night.”  In front of Miss Bordeaux and her easel was a mass of nature, and beyond that a tall church steeple.  On the paper in front of her was a painting of a dozen blue horses in a spotlight.  “Did it go well?”

Marcel sat down next to her paints on a small table.  “I think so.  The audience seemed to enjoy it.”

“Then why the long face young Marcel?”  She turned to him smiling.  “You should enjoy your triumphs.  You never know when your time for them will run out.”

Marcel did not answer her.  She never waiter for him to answer either.  “My father used to take me out to ride horses when I was a little girl,”  she laughed, “but that was ages ago.”  She turned back to her paintings.  “So I will be there tonight to see your performance.”

Marcel looked up at her, “Really?  I mean it’s not that I wouldn’t want you there, of course I would.  But I... well...”

“I will be there tonight young Marcel.”

He smiled back at her and got up to leave.

“Oh and Marcel?” as Marcel turned to face her she touched his nose with the blue paintbrush.  “Smile young man, or you will grow old too quickly.”

Marcel wiped his nose and turned back around.  That was how all of their meetings went.  And Marcel had never asked for anything more.

The night that his mother died, Marcel had run to Miss Bordeaux’s house and fallen asleep on her back patio.  When he woke in the morning he was covered in blankets.  And a tray of food lay in front of him.  A small pouch with a single stone from her patio was on the tray with a little note attached, “For your memories, lest you forget what ground brought you to them.”

Marcel grabbed his satchel off of the bench and took the small pouch out of his coat pocket.  He took the paint on his finger and smeared it onto the pouch.  The words triumphs and grow old stayed with him as he walked to the theater.

Marcel had been going to the theater everyday for the last seven years.  His mother had brought him there when he was six years old for his birthday.  Her original intention was not for him to fall in love with theater, but to enjoy entertainment.  She; however, never stopped Marcel from doing anything.  At six years old, Marcel had walked up to the director of the theater, tugged at the tails of his tuxedo and politely asked, “Sir may I audition for you tomorrow morning?  I don’t have a lot of experience, but I would very much like to work with you... for you I mean.”  Marcel stared up at the man with a very stern face.  He would be known for years as the boy with the expectatious eyes.

The man had simply said, “Certainly, tomorrow at nine A.M.”  turned and walked away.

The next morning there was no audition either.  Marcel simply became part of the group that performed night after night.  Young Marcel never understood why the man, who later was known as Richard Tarfaut, had simply said yes to him, while putting so many others through extensive auditioning.  And like most occurrences in young Marcel’s life, he did not ask for an explanation.  


Young Marcel would lie in bed at night, wide eyed and motionless.  His unwavering nature never turning to ache.  Young Marcel had heard of pain, all his life he felt that emptiness.  All his life, he never could shake it.  He would hear the muttering downstairs, across the hall, in the street that seemed so far below.  He would remember the mutterings as though they were clear memories that affected him.  The old couple crying as the received the news.  Their son had been killed by a single bullet.  Other mutterings were surrounded by broken glass and slamming doors.  Others still, everyday movements of everyday mouths, emotionless and forgotten by even themselves.  All his life the mutterings went on.  Heartbreaking. Ticking.  Constant.  Secure.  Deafening. 

Young Marcel’s mind would mutter back to him the words he had heard in the street, in a shop, or at the theater.  He felt the space between those voices and himself and wondered when that time would end.  When could he hear silence?  Marcel never thought of it in those terms.  Eventually, though, he would realize this.  Eventually everything fades.  The voices.  The mutterings.  The sounds.  The memory.  His mother.

Miss Bordeaux once told him that his mother had flown away long before she had spread her wings.  That was just her way.  Forever, in remember this, Marcel would think of his mother at the edge of a dock.  A pale purple dress fluttered all around her.  She was watching the birds.  He was watching her.  He grabbed her hand to bring her back.  But he always woke up from the dream.  The distinct sound of the fluttering of bird’s wings hung there in his mind.  


“Are you simple, now?” she looked at him with all of the sadness in the world.  

Marcel just stared back at the girl.  For a moment he did not move, did not breathe.  He had forgotten his line.  He had forgotten that he was surrounded by other people.  He had forgotten that this was the girl’s audition.  After a moment her head turned slightly and her eyes questioned him.  Then he remembered, “No.”  

The girl let go of his arm and made a motion as though she were picking a rose.  “Perhaps then, Gabriel, your life will lead you away from here.”  She turned to face him.  “Perhaps you will leave here.”  

The girl’s expression made him realize that he did not know her real name.  “Eventually we all must leave here.  This is no place for ones who cannot be lifted to the vices of politics or society.”  He pretended to take the rose from her hand and begin removing it’s thorns.  “I used to think different worlds would not collide if I just stayed away.”

“His death made you change your mind.” 

Marcel motioned to hand her the rose.  “We cannot always pretend to not be running.”

“Mademoiselle that was quite nice.  Quite nice indeed.”  Tarfaut had gotten up from his seat in the audience and walked onto the stage.  “My dear, if you would please obtain a copy of the full script and begin with Juliette's lines promptly.  Have them ready for Monday morning.”  

“Thank-you Monsieur.”  The girl turned back to Marcel and gave him a small smile before walking off the stage.

“That is all for today.  If everyone could please be able to recite all of their lines by Monday.  We will be rehearsing all next week in order to prepare for next weekend’s show.”  Tarfaut often paced when he spoke to the group.  He had always reminded Marcel of a circus ringmaster.  However, he also carried with him the demure of someone who deserved the utmost respect.  “Oh yes, yes.  Before you all run out, we are looking for volunteers to paint this weekend.  The sets for the show are more elaborate than usual and will require some extra work.  All of those available please come in tomorrow morning, as early as possible.”  He heard a small snicker from the audience.  “Yes Christian, I do expect you to unlock the doors in the morning before everyone’s arrival.”

Christian, a tall, quite slender young man stood up.  “Why certainly Monsieur.  And who shall I give the keys to afterwards?”  He asked this with a smirk on his face.

“You will be staying until the painting is done that night.  You do not have other plans I hope?” Tarfaut also asked this with a hidden smirk on his face.

“But of course not.  I would love to be of service all day and night.”

“Good then.  Good-night everyone.”  Trafaut lit a cigar and walked backstage.  

Marcel jumped off of the stage and looked towards the people who were leaving the theater through the back.  He was looking for the girl.  Christian put his arm around Marcel, “So, you’ll be here tomorrow right?”

Marcel looked at him and laughed.  “Of course, but I am not opening the doors for you.  Nor will I cover for you again.  Tarfaut would have our heads if he had walked in any sooner last time.”  

“Oh now, that was a mere miscalculation.  And the fact is that we weren’t caught.”  Christian grabbed his chest and stopped in his tracks.  “How can I resist the temptation of a woman so beautiful when she calls for me?”

“When she’s his daughter.”  Marcel reveled in his friendship with Christian.  The young man antics and charm won people over within minutes of meeting him.  They had both been part of the theater group since they were very young.  Christian was an orphan whose parents had died in a factory fire.  Tarfaut took him in at a very early age.  Christian took Marcel in immediately.  

“Yes, yes... his daughter.  But in the whole scheme of things how absolute is that fact?  How long will she be just his daughter?  She is more than that, so much more than that.”  Christian gave out a long exasperated sigh.  “She will be mine.”

“Tarfaut will have your head.”

“If he ever find out, possibly.  But I think after careful consideration he will come to see that I really am the best man suited for her.”  He stopped and smiled at Marcel.  “Besides he has never stopped me before.  Look at all of the time I’ve stolen with her, without his notice.”

“Without his notice... but his care will one day attract his notice.”

“Oh my dear young Marcel.  Whatever will we do with you?”  Christian then noticed that Marcel was looking through the crowd in front of them.  “You’re looking for her aren’t you?”

“For who?”

“The girl whose rose you made thornless just now.  That my dear friend, was a very nice touch by the way.”  Christian, seeing that Marcel would not partake in the conversation any longer then necessary made a quick decision.  “Come on, let’s catch up with her.”  He grabbed Marcel’s arm.  “Cynthia! Cynthia!”

“Wait! Stop Christian.  Do not be so rude and abrupt,” Marcel pleaded with him.

“Abrupt wins wars my dear boy.  Cynthia!”  He managed to catch up with the girl.

“Hello,” she said with that same small smile.

“My dear girl, allow us to walk you home.” Christian held out his arm to her.  Just then Marcel caught up with them, almost out of breath.

“Hello,” he managed to say.

“Easy there my boy.  You’re going to give yourself a heart attack chasing after beautiful women like this.”  Christian smirked at Cynthia who in turned blushed.

“I would love to be escorted home.  Thank-you,” Cynthia quickly said this as to not further any kind of embarrassment for either party.  

For the next half an hour Marcel was entranced by the girl.  Her every word seemed to him as a memory in his mind reemerging.  Her movements were quiet and generous.  She walked in between both of the young man, latching onto to an arm from each.  Whenever Christian would speak of unimaginable things or spill out silly stories, she would tighten her grip on Marcel’s arm, but would not laugh.  Immediately, they understood each other.  He noticed her ability to listen to Christian’s words and still watch the young children playing in the street, or follow the path of a butterfly with her eyes.  

“There is my house,” she said pointing to a white stone house with roses handing from every balcony.  “I am afraid that I must go the rest of the way alone, as to not start suspicions from my father or mother.  Thank-you for your escort.”

“Will you be coming tomorrow?” Marcel asked, and quickly blushed after realizing the sound of urgency in his voice.

“Yes, I believe so.  I must first do some work at home early in the morning, but I will be there.”  She smiled at Marcel and then looked at Christian, “It was very nice getting to hear your stories.  I would imagine you have so many more.”

“Oh yes, indeed Mademoiselle.”  Christian bowed his head and stepped back.  “Until tomorrow.”

Cynthia turned to face Marcel. “I will see you tomorrow then.”

“And maybe tomorrow, we will have the pleasure of once again escorting you home.”  He smiled.  “Or at least as far as this.”

“I’d enjoy that.”  She began to walk away.  “Oh, and Marcel, thank-you for the rose.”  She smiled and began to run up the stairs of her house. 

“Beauty is before you, young Marcel.”  Christian once again put his arm around Marcel’s shoulders and began to walk.  “And my dear boy, she knows your name.”

Marcel couldn’t help but to smile at the situation and his friend’s immediate response to it.  “You read too many classic novels with too many hearts running towards each other, Christian.”

“Ah yes, this is true.  Speaking of which, I have to run to my damsel in distress before proper supper conversation allows us no words to express,”  Christian grabbed his chest again, “the depths of our passions.”

“Don’t get caught, Romeo.  You may wind up poisoning yourself.”  

“Every artist my boy, must struggle.  If she is my struggle, then I am blessed.”

“Goodnight.”  Christian had already run off.  Everyone knew of his affair with Tarfaut’s daughter Katrin.  Everyone of course, except Tarfaut.  Christian kept his quarters in the back house on Tarfaut’s property.  Katrin’s window faced his.  No one was quite sure how Tarfaut would take the knowledge of the affair.  He did not raise the two as brother and sister.  Christian was more of his associate and son, while Katrin took the place in the household where his wife would have been, had she not run away a year after Katrin’s birth.  Tarfaut trusted those he trusted, and did away with the rest.  For this reason Katrin and Christian were able to become each other’s hold.  They, and of course the theater, were all Tarfaut had.  

Marcel never thought to envy Christian.  Not for the way Tarfaut treated him as his own son, nor the family that the three together created.  He did not think of his life in comparisons.  

It was already dark as Marcel passed the saloon.  He could see his father sitting at the end of the bar, talking to the bartender.  He could also see that his father was not drunk.  Marcel pushed open the door. 

“Well, well my young Marcel.”  His father put his hand on Marcel’s shoulder.  Although he was not drunk, he had been drinking.  He seemed to be in good spirits.

But Marcel did not sit down.  He simply nodded his head at the bartender and said, “Hello father.  Are you ready to go home?” 

His father’s expression stiffened a bit.  He looked from Marcel to the bartender.  “Matthew,” he began addressing the bartender, “this here is one of the best actors to ever grace the stages of this city.”  He paused and looked at Marcel.  “One day he’s going to be known around the world.”

Marcel gave a small smile to the bartender, but said nothing.

“You go on home son, I’ll be there in just a bit.”  He turned back to face the bar.

Marcel stood there for a moment.  And then simply left.  He did not quite understand what just happened.  It had never happened before.  He and his father had not spoken to each other, nor to anyone about each other in a very long time.  

As he washed his face that night, a small cut on his finger began to sting under the cold water.  He did not remember being pricked by anything.  He washed the cut and placed a gauze around it.  He fell asleep with the image of roses and of Cynthia’s movements floating in his mind, mixing with the mutterings.


The next morning Marcel woke to the same breakfast prepared as always.  His father had brought himself home.  Marcel stopped at Miss Bordeaux’s house on the way to the theater.  He had wanted to tell her about Cynthia, although he did not understand why.  When he got there, she was not home, but had left a note on the door for him.

“Young Marcel, I had to leave early this morning on some business with an old friend.  I will be back this afternoon.  Stop by for a late lunch if you’d like.  Signed C.B.”

Marcel took the letter and put it into his satchel.  When he arrived at the theater Christian was already there setting up drop clothes around the sets.  

“Well my dear friend, I have fallen beyond the bounds of man.”  Christian leaned forward and whispered, “last night, I fell completely.  I, my friend, am no longer that boy that you have grown to know.  She, no longer the girl I had longed to absorb.”

“Christian, Christian,” Marcel said smiling at his friend, “when hasn’t a night with Samantha not changed you completely?”

“Ah my boy, you may laugh at me all you want.  You will one day know the feel of an angel on your skin.  And you will feel the despair when she is not there.”  Christian had sat down on the edge of the stage and put one hand under Marcel’s chin.  “One day my boy, an angel will change you.”

“Hello?” A voice came from the back of the stage, followed by the sound of a thump.

Christian smirked at Marcel, “Maybe today.”  He got up and went to the side of the stage, flipping the lights on backstage.  “Sorry, I forgot to turn the lights on.  We’re here so much that we could go blind and still know our way around.”

Cynthia emerged from backstage, holding her arm.  “Not me.”

“Not yet,” Christian quickly replied.

“Good morning.” Marcel said.  “You must have gotten your morning chores done last night to be here this early.”

“I usually wake up quite early.  I like the stillness, and getting things done without being reminded as to how to do them.”  She smirked and placed her bag down on the front of the stage.  “So, where do we begin?”

“Well, I have to set these cloths up first.  So why don’t you allow Young Marcel to give you a tour of the theater and bring back the paint from the back room?”

Marcel held out his arm to her, “Right this way.”

She gratefully took his arm.  “We should start in the backstage area first, and then move onto the particulars of how and what Tarfaut calls things during rehearsals.”

Christian laughed, “Oh yes, and the ten different names he gives the same thing.”

The two began walking around the backstage of the theater.  They spoke in low voices, but were sure that Christian must be listening intently.  But in an instant, Marcel forgot about his friend and reveled in the calm and ease of his words with a complete stranger.  Only, he felt as though he had been there before.  With her.  Hearing those words.  From those lips.

Not a word was said about the theater.  She asked him about his family, his hobbies, his life in the theater.  He told her everything.  They had climbed up to the catwalk, and were looking down at the others who had started to come in.  He realized then that he had not asked her a single question about her life.  “I’m sorry, I have talked and talked about myself.  But what about you?”

Cynthia smiled at him.  From below Christian yelled, “Marcel we’re ready for the paint, and bring more cloth down too!”

Marcel looked at Cynthia who said, “We will have time.”  She turned and began walking.  “The paint room is this way right?”

Marcel smiled after her.

  Idle Waiting, Constant

When I was a child I did a lot of things I would never speak about.  I hid many things from my parents and friends.  I would make up what I later learned was an “excuse” and leave the house all day.  I would proclaim that I was off to plant trees, or paint a neighborhood fence, or to help build house number three.  Action was first, maybe even to breathing.  So long as I was working on something, I was not questioned.  The prefix “re” was also unknown to me.  In my heart, the word action had a different meaning than it did to them.  That elusive “them” that made all of these morals and ideals a reality.  An insane ongoing unreality.  I didn’t know what it was then.  But I suppose it doesn’t matter.  It is all gone.  It is all past and done.  That world, just like all of the others is gone.  Once written, then cycled into new history.  My grandfather was the only one who knew where I was actually going all those times, where my mind was telling my legs to walk, my hands to move.  Even I didn’t really know.  To me I was still doing something, moving.

Once in a history book, I read the word “idle” and wondered what it meant.  All of the old dictionaries had been recycled to make new ones.  All of the former words had been destroyed or changed to form something new.  Often words were formed that were entirely different, not just changed.  The word “idle” was no where to be found.  When I questioned my grandfather, he scolded me for using profanity.  I should have known better than to ask him in front of my mother.  

At four A.M. the next morning my grandfather pressed the eject button on my bed.  Once standing, we were programmed to continue moving.  To never stand still.  I grabbed my coat and followed my grandfather into hallway.  My hair had not finished drying from the sleeping bath-shower.  We passed by the living room where my mother was dusting furiously.  “Going out now Margaret.  Taking him with me.  We’ll be busy all day.  We’ll take our meals with us.  Good-bye now.”  

My mother’s image stood still in my mind.  An illegal act to think that way.  Images standing still meant that people could stand still, in theory at least.  People standing still did not produce.  People producing images of people standing still did not produce.  Production was key.  Movement was more.  Keep moving.

I followed my grandfather outside and walked quickly beside him.  He had told me once that there was a time when people his age were called “elderly.”  They would stop working, stop moving.  They would “retire” he called it.  They would spend time “relaxing.”  I did not know that term.  He explained to me that they did nothing.  They sat in the sun.  They took long naps.  And worse, they talked about the past.  My grandfather told me about the “good old days.”  He told me about the consistency of that phrase.  That every generation had a memory for that phrase.  He told me that it was always changing.  He told me that it never changed3.

The street was full of people as we walked to the destination that my grandfather seemed to have chosen for us.  Some watered their lawn.  Some pulled shingles off of their house.  Others began putting new shingles where old ones had been pulled off.  A group gathered at one person’s house and did this.  The next day, or even later on that day, that house would be finished and they moved onto the next.  And the next and the next.  When the shingles were done, the roofs were changed.  When the roofs were done, the windows were changed.  When every house had everything changed once, the first house’s shingles would be pulled off once more, and new shingles would be nailed on.  Movement was key.  

I didn’t ask my grandfather where we were going.  I trusted him.  I loved him.  When remembering the still image of my mother I often wondered if she ever had had time to feel this for her father.  I had heard awful stories from history teachers about people who had stopped for these feelings.  A young boy, only twenty miles away, had brought home a single rose to his mother.  The boy had stopped in front of his mother and said those three words.  She did not understand it, but she began to cry.  She picked her son up in her arms and held him there.  They silently cried together.  The two were ruined from then on.  They were unable to produce at the numbers they once did.  They were unable to move as fast because they took time to smile at each other.  To say good morning to each other.  To say those three words.  They eventually disappeared.  Their house was torn down and rebuilt.  Faulty structuring might have been the cause.  

My grandfather and I had passed by at least a hundred people and had not said a word.  He was heading north, towards the woods.  The place of planting.  A huge factory was built and being built again between the houses and the woods.  The factory produced all of the shingles needed to change the houses.  There were no machines.  The wood was chopped using an ax and a person’s strength.  Other sanded the wood.  Others boxed the woods.  My grandfather had told me about the factories, about how they were before.  He told me about digression.  About the once thought amazing “conveyor belt” and “assembly line.”  These stories would make sense to me only years later.  People changed for machines.  Movement changed for button pressing.  

The school I had spent my two school years in was changing the windows of my old classroom as we passed.  Years ago I learned there how to move things.  How to move myself.  How to be constant.  How to start and never finish.  In the school yard there were treadmills.  A hundred or so young children ran on these treadmills at all times.  Headphones played in their ears.  Lessons constantly being drummed through their heads.  Ideals, morals, and “truths” about the world- repeated constantly.  I saw the little girl who lived next door to my family switching off with another girl.  The treadmill was not allowed to stop turning.  Those children produce the electricity that kept the city lit at night.  If a child was incredibly keen on running for long periods of time, this became their job later on.  They would run for at least an hour, rest, and run again.  They were kept constant, getting every other day to rest for longer intervals.  The thought of stopping did not occur to them.  The word “stop” did not exist anymore.  My grandfather had told me about “stop.”  

For two years, children went to school.  They were to learn movement and decide what to do with the skill.  No one was given any more time.  Two years.  There was no need for contemplation.  People were what they were.  People had to begin moving at an early age.  They would not be able to remember a time before the moving began if they chose early in their lives.  People, we were told, do not change.  Things change.  People are to be kept constant.  They are to be kept constant by changing things.  The machine was to run constantly.  

I chose books.  To change books.  To cycle books.  To write things down.  Every morning I was ejected from my bed at six A.M. and began walking to the library.  Once there I would take the next book on the list from the shelf.  I would open the books to page one.  I would begin writing.  First with my right hand, then with my left.  I would change words, since many no longer existed.  I would change plots so that they would fit with that day’s world.  Entire stories, gone.  A young man named Hamlet no longer spoke in circles and rhyme.  He organized books on shelves.  He too, changed plot lines.  

No one ever visited the library.  Only a scant few worked there everyday.  No one ever read what they wrote.  No one who wrote ever really saw the words.  The movement of everything, constantly.  We knew what we were to change.  We knew what was no longer part of the world.  We instinctively knew what needed to be changed.  The books were kept for a day when the world would change again.  Even the elusive “they” knew that constantly had to change.  I began writing six years before my grandfather and I walked to the woods that day.  I wrote, slept, and took meals.  The sound of silence was deafening.  My grandfather told me about the sound of the machines he called “typewriters.“  He told me about the ticking.  I do not remember my mother’s voice.  Nor do I remember the voices of anyone who worked in that same library.  We did not speak.  Movement was key.

My grandfather spoke to me constantly it seemed.  Even while writing in the library, his voice carried on in my mind.  I sometimes still wonder if the words I wrote were his.  I sometimes wonder if I should have been more careful.  My grandfather had told me about typewriters and then about computers.  He told me about these things and amazed me with his words.  People had once thought that these were marvels of the world.  They saved time and energy.  He always stopped there.  He never discussed further about the past.  He never told me about the time saved.  The energy saved.  He kept me from the conclusion.  I would not have understood it anyhow.  I had never felt stillness in that way once thought marvelous way.  I had been in movement since I could walk.  

Maybe his words were read, on some random check.  The police ran up and down the streets.  They rarely ever slowed down.  The system was so ingrained and so ingraining that digression was near impossible.  But maybe my old grandfather’s words had been deciphered by my hands.  Maybe he had said too much.  Maybe I shouldn’t have asked him about the word “idle.”  

We had passed my still-imaged mother, hundreds of people changing their houses, running, moving children, the factory, and the new factory being built right beside it (the old one to be torn down upon its completion).  It was well past six A.M..  I did not question my grandfather still.  We continued in through the woods, much further than I had ever been before.  This had been one of my childhood places.  I used to jump from tree to tree, never stopping.  All of the trees were newly planted.  The older ones had been cut down to make new shingles.  Constantly.  

As we continued to walk I noticed the trees getting taller.  Older.  The ground began to be covered more and more with growing vines and ivy.  My mother’s still image flashed through my mind.  It moved in frames, but her position did not.  The woods around me seemed terrifyingly familiar, as if I had walked there in a dream.  Or maybe in a book I had once or twice changed.  My grandfather did not seem affected by the change in the trees.  Maybe he had been here before because of his work in the shingle factory.  We kept walking.  Our only contact was when he passed me a meal to take.  Small white pills designs to remove the redundant process of eating.  My grandfather had told me about family dinners.  About something called holidays.  Thanksgiving feasts.  I took the small white pill from his hand and swallowed it.  He did this three times.  We must have walked all day.  

As the sun began to set I heard the sound of water.  I had never heard the sound of water coming from anything but a hose or a faucet before.  I began to assume that we were nearing another city.  But the mass of trees became less and less dense as we walked on.  And then my foot touched it.  Stone.  My grandfather and I came to a tall cliff.  My eyes opened wide in disbelief.  I almost forgot to keep walking, to turn before falling off.  A river flowed far below us.  I continued to follow him along the cliff.  We were slowly descending into the valley below.  This too, felt like a terrifying dream I once had, or a book that I had changed.   

What happened next would change everything.  At the riverbed there was a small boat.  It had once been painted blue, but the paint was chipping away now.  The boat had no paddles.  My grandfather was pacing along the riverside.  I instinctively did the same, not knowing what else to do.  I felt the image of my still mother pounding in my veins.  “Get in.”  My grandfather’s words somehow calmed me for a minute.  A command meant moving.  I stepped into the boat.  “Sit in the center.”  My foot instinctively tapped the wood of the boat.  I looked up at my grandfather, he pushed the boat off of the bank, jumped in and sat.  The boat began to move down the river.  And then, my grandfather just stopped.  

My grandfather stared at me for a long time.  He did not move.  My foot kept time against the wooden planks.  Looking straight at him, I noticed that my grandfather had blue eyes.  And then he spoke in words I would not fully understand, nor forget for quite some time.  “Boy, you have asked me so many questions over so few years.  You have asked me to give you the knowledge of the past world.  The knowledge that you yourself change with written words.  You wash it out of history.  You make history make sense to today.  No one reads the words.  The world is moving.  It has no time to read words.  But that is your chosen profession.  Your chosen movement is something that will only confuse you as you write books over and over again.  You have read of the other world, the before world.  You see this world, today, in a way that others do not.  You take notice in a way that is impossible for them.  They do not have time.  

“This world moves.  If it stopped, even if it slowed the world would grow idle.  You cannot understand that word because you have only felt it mildly in your bones.  Since you were a child you have been slowing down.  You have been saving time.  You have saved images.  The others cannot.  The world used to be filled with others like you.  People would trust, as you trust me.  People would love and hate.  People would feel something about the world around them.  They would have an opinion about it.  They had time to think of an opinion.  They remembered that opinion.  People did just what I am doing now.  They talked.  They sat and talked and planned and didn’t plan.  They thought about the times when they were young.  They remembered.  They spoke about what they would do when they were old.  They all searched for a little bit more free time then they had before.  Each generation sought quicker ways to work, making their lives “easier.”  They raced so that they could stop.  And wait.  But for nothing.  One side of the world fought the other.  Families fought families.  People could not work together.  People did not realize the inevitable.”  He stopped.  My eyes had not moved from his.  

“Do you understand?” he asked.  .  

“What happened?”  I asked.  “Why did the world stop?”  

My grandfather put his hand below my chin, and brought my gaze back into his.  “Because we are all dying my boy.”  He smiled gently.  “And we cannot stop it.”  

I stared into his eyes for a long, long time before I realized the silence.  My foot had stopped tapping.  At that very moment, I heard the distinctive sound of the fluttering of bird’s wings from behind him.  A large white bird had taken off from the cliff above.  It swooped down just above us and then disappeared.  “Do you understand my boy?”  

“The movement of things does not change.  Nothing changes.  We still will die.”  

My grandfather fell asleep on the boat and never woke up.  I carried his body back to the city and collapsed in front of the hospital.  I guess my name had been put on a list of those to watch.  They checked my books.  I couldn’t tell them anything.  They would not understand.  They noticed how slow I walked, how I almost seemed to stop.  They said I was touched with a fever.  I was arrested.      

The boy who gave a rose to his mother sleeps in the bed at the end of the hall.  He speaks in circles and rhyme at length.  His mother was taken to the intensive psychiatric ward, where she walks up and down the halls, always moving.  They do not call this a prison.  They call this “idle waiting.”  I could still hear his voice whispering in my head.  They do not let me use a pen.  Maybe they are afraid of the words too.  The reasons were inevitable.  

Long Story