First Person Possessive


On Wednesday nights, Dad would pull up the driveway in his Carolina blue Mercedes and honk the horn, cigarette perched in the corner of his mouth, hairy forearm hanging from the car window. My brothers and I would run down the front steps shouting, “Shotgun!” tugging at each other’s collars, attempting to hold the other one back. 

He would take us to the Village Inn Pizza Parlor on Battleground Road, where they played silent films on a canvas in a dimly lit, wood paneled dining room. By the flickering light of some bygone silver screen stars, we’d devour a large cheese pizza and drink pitchers of Coca-Cola with crushed ice and talk about nothing in particular and everything in general.

“All these youngins yours, sugar?” the waitress would ask, surveying me and my three brothers like we were a certain sign of his virility.

They sure are, honey,” Dad would reply.

That was the year language changed. “Our home” became “The house.” Possessive adjectives were too hefty to place into a sentence. Dad left Mom for a woman who was all of the things that she was not, blonde, young and childless. But, Wednesday nights and alternating weekends were ours, possessive. If he wanted to flirt, he could do it on his time, singular.

“I look just like my mother,” I said to the waitress.

The midweek meals and weekend sleepovers dwindled when my older brother went off to college. The last time we participated in a Wednesday night dinner, a Formica table divided the space between us at a McDonalds, while Dad drew down a cigarette. We spoke of nothing at all until he asked, “You about done?” and I replied “No, but we can go now.”

When Dad became ill, there was a sense deep down in my marrow that I needed to say something to him. The old, if you need to say anything, you better say it now, feeling. We’d be sitting in the afternoon sun on the brick patio, just the two of us and I’d rack my brain trying to fish up something worthy to say. Some timeless version of I love you, or I forgive you. I’d look over at his chemo withered frame and hairless head, but the words I was trying to push out would be sucked back in by a tide of embarrassment too strong to ford.

Funny, the things you remember when someone up and leaves; a cluster of red and yellow petals swirling in the sunlight on the front porch, the stench of stale breath and sweat soaked linens, a pair of skinny, pale legs twitching a death jig in a rental hospital bed and a smoke colored moon drifting through an inky black sky.

The last time I said anything to Dad was moments before he left. I sat in the coveted spot by his head and my brothers at his feet, as we counted the seconds between his final breaths.

“It’s OK, Dad, you can go now.”

That’s all I said.

Because the most important words I could think of to say were the ones my father was waiting to hear.

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Dancing For The Stars


When Paul installed a security camera in our cottage in Maine, I felt a celebutante’s dread that I would become the victim of a leaked sex tape. When I expressed this concern, he brushed it aside with a wave of his hand and said “It only records when we put it in ‘away’ mode.” In theory, this is true, but in practice it is false. The camera never records, because we never put it in away mode. But it is always on, a watchful eye streaming to an app on our iPhones with a five second delay. It is on demand déjà vu.

“Show me something,” Paul says as I walk into the kitchen.

I face the camera and give it a Kardashian caught without make-up look.

“No, I mean something good,” he says holding his iPhone up in front of his face while sitting on the sofa in the sun room and flicking his index finger and thumb, zooming in. He then offers some directorial advice “Do a sexy little dance.”

I perform my best Magic Mike moves.

“That was mechanical,” Paul sighs.

The life of a reality star is difficult and if being under constant surveillance were not enough, there is a microphone on the camera that is controlled by the iPhone app.

“Oh yeah, slice those limes,” a gravelly porn star voice, aka Paul, emanates from the speaker on the camera. “Now squeeze them, baby. Squeeze them real good.”

Correction, it is on demand porno vu.

When we are not home, Paul will occasionally say “I wonder what’s going on in the cottage,” which is my cue to open the app. I’m not certain what I expect, but every time I am chilled to see a creepy stillness, a kitchen table and four empty chairs in the shifting light of the late autumn New England sun, shadows in the shuttered sun room, the glint of sunlight on hardwood floors where the click of our footsteps have long since vanished. Perhaps even more eerie is the sound of our absence, white noise.

All of this makes me feel as if I am somehow cheating. Unless we have jumped off of a bridge on a snowy winter night and been pulled out of the abyss by a bumbling guardian angel, we’re not meant to see the world without us. But I do, and for all of the changes it has made to me, I am surprised to find it unaltered. The air does not quiver, as Isak Dinesen ruminated, with a color I have had on.

If our nearest possible alien neighbors were to poke their telescopes through the cloth of space, it would take at least twelve years for any images from Earth to reach them. This is the nearest “habitable zone” of planets, scientists say. The image of my sexy dance in a pair of boxers while slicing limes would echo through the cosmos, bumping into a passing comet and drifting over stars for more than a decade before reaching the blinking eyes of some extra-terrestrials.  

I imagine two alien lovers discovering my ethereal sex tape and looking at each other in that knowing way, touched by the absurdity of the universe and this gives me comfort. They would glance at each other and exchange thoughts without speaking, as Paul and I often do, then smile, turn on the microphone and whisper a gravelly message across the void.

“Get out.” 






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Public Displays


We are strolling along the Charles as Paul’s hand falls behind my back and taps me on the rear end. I swat at the air as if an angry swarm of bees has descended upon us.

“See that? Ninja like reflexes,” he says and performs a karate chop.  “Nobody would have seen me touch you if you hadn't made such a public display.”

He begins to sing. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when you act gay.” He then slides his sunglasses down his nose with one finger, glances sideways at me while raising an eyebrow and says “You need modesty panels beneath that shirt. I can see your breasteses.” The thumb and index finger of his right hand come towards my chest like a snapping turtle, which I block with the back of my hand, hi-yah!   

Taking a walk with Paul is no walk in the park. My discomfort with performing public displays of affection is, perhaps, rivaled only by his delight in delivering them. The more I squirm, the more he fondles.

“You’re adorable,” he’ll say, while my hands dart to shield parts of my body as if my clothes have evaporated.

It is this reaction that fuels his glee.  You think I would learn.

When Paul is driving and I am sitting in the passenger seat, the slightest anomaly startles me, a car changing lanes, a bus suddenly stopping or the shadow cast by a passing bird.  All of these things will cause me to shout “Look out!” and stomp on the imaginary brake.

“Sweetie, look at me. What if I were to pass out right now,” Paul will say, his neck becoming slack and his hands flopping to his side.  The car will veer slightly towards the shoulder. “We would end up sinking to our watery death in the marsh,” Paul will say and my hands will fly up as if I’m swatting away bees again.

“Don’t do that!”

I can’t remember the exact moment I became so fearful, though I know it is entwined with when I became fearless. When you make the decision to become courageous and get what you want, you become afraid of losing it. We have never crashed through the guard rail.  No one has ever threatened us over a kiss, still I am like the dog getting his back scratched; too concerned that it will end to completely enjoy it.

But today it is a warm September afternoon and summer is flirting with fall. The leaves are glowing yellow. Rowers skim the river’s glossy surface like water bugs. Crickets are chirping love songs to one another and if gravity failed, we could sail forever together through the endless blue sky. I make the decision to enjoy the moment and then like a driverless car my thoughts veer towards the dark water.

“What are you thinking about, right now?” Paul asks, while pointing a finger at me.

“That I am afraid the literary magazine will not publish my piece, or worse, that they will. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent anything out.”

Paul screws up his face and says “They’re going to hate it. You will probably never write again.”

I throw up my hands to block the insult.

You think I would learn.




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Spinning Bottles


The first time I kissed a girl, I was twelve years old, which was also the first time I sampled my first taste of alcohol.  The two were, rather surprisingly, unrelated.  The former involved a gaggle of eighth graders in Carolyn Clancy’s backyard, spinning an empty green bottle and the latter a bubbling champagne fountain at my step-grandmother’s second or third wedding in Danville, Virginia.  Both of them left me feeling slightly nauseated.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why my father thought it was A-OK to let his twelve year old son drink four glasses of champagne.  Perhaps, he thought it might put some hair on my chest or maybe he found it charming the way, when loosened up, I performed my Cary Grant impersonation for the crowd.

“Judy, Judy, Judy.”

My step-grandmother wore a smart, ivory, lace jacket and skirt suit, smiled widely and her lilting southern accent curled up at the ends like her Mary Tyler Moore hair-doo. She wore bright red lipstick and from a distance she could have been a beauty queen, but when you got up close you could see how the lipstick bled into the tiny cracks around her mouth from years of smoking Virginia Slim cigarettes. The effect was slightly horrifying.

I suppose that’s the way I felt about Karen Enright too.  From an emotional distance, she looked appealing, but when the mouth of the bottle stopped spinning and pointed at her like a gulping fish I scanned the expectant crowd and wondered if they might settle for my Cary Grant impersonation instead.

“Kiss her!” The boys shouted at me.

“Judy”—I muttered.

“Just do it Dameron!”

The crowd wanted a lurid display of sex.  Sister Mary Claire had just that year, attempted to teach a classroom of hormonal boys the facts of life.  The girls were sent to another room to learn about their monthly gift. But, when Alex Brethette asked Sister Mary Claire if a blowjob was considered pre-marital sex, she became red-faced and was replaced by our hunky physical education teacher with the porno-mustache.  I was thrilled, however sorely disappointed that Alex never broached the blowjob question with him.

I finally mustered up the courage, stepped across the divide of the circle, closed my eyes, and planted a kiss squarely on Karen’s nose. My aim was a little off.  She jumped up, holding her hand to her nose and inexplicably, started crying.

“I’ll hate you for the rest of my life!” She bawled.

Her hatred lasted for one week, maybe two. My embarrassment lasted a little longer.

The first time I kissed a boy, I was nineteen years old and unsurprisingly, it involved alcohol, gobs of it. There was no spinning bottle, but the stars above us were twirling and they all seemed to point at a guy I met in a bar on the edge of town, beneath the moonlit shadows of the Colorado Rockies. My aim was much better this time and despite being a little more than tipsy, I don’t remember feeling nauseated in the least, quite the opposite.

I first kissed my husband in the cold Burlington Mall parking lot. There wasn't any alcohol involved, but the effect was no less intoxicating.   If I could go back, I’d tell my twelve year old self a few things. Ignore most of what nuns teach you about sex, alternate glasses of water with the champagne and have faith, it will take forty-four spins of the Earth around the sun to find your own charming Cary Grant. It’s worth the wait.



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Mystery Date


My therapist leaned forward and asked, “What are you looking for, physically, in a man?” I could have said, “Someone who looks like you.” It would have been truthful, though awkward. After forty-three years in the closet, the physical details regarding my ideal man were basic: someone over twenty-one and under fifty. Even then, I was willing to grant some leeway. If I had an angel and a devil on either shoulder, one was a gyrating go-go boy in a red G-string and the other was a gay Pat Boone.

“Tall, maybe six-two, one hundred ninety-ish pounds,” I said narrowing my eyes to visualize him and then continued, “brown tousled hair with highlights, blue, no, green eyes. He works out, but not too much, you know?”

“That’s fairly specific,” Adam remarked.

I was describing a guy I had just seen on the subway.

“Also, a good sense of humor and caring,” I attempted to round it out.  Although these were not technically physical attributes, I hoped this made me seem less superficial.

“You’re a good person, you’ll attract a good man, but it’s important that you understand what you’re looking for,” He replied.

There was a warning of sorts, couched in that compliment, but like most people would, I focused on the compliment and ignored the warning.

After creating an online dating profile I showed it to my friends, Hans and Dennis. Hans had been in the closet for forty-six years and if Dennis ever was in, it was only to color coordinate his clothes. They lived together in a small condo on the top floor of a 1920’s building in Harvard Square. I would visit them often and dream of living in the city with the man I loved. Their home was like a photograph from the pages of House Beautiful. Although in House Beautiful, I doubt there was a charcoal drawing of an ejaculating penis on the refrigerator.  

“Oh my God, so many of these men are the same ones who were on here before I met Hans. These poor men--Not you honey-- you’re fresh meat,” Dennis said patting me on the shoulder.

How long would it be before my meat began to spoil?

“Oh honey, let’s go through them all. I’ll tell you which ones to avoid with a ten foot pole,” Dennis said, then he raised one eyebrow and added “or the ones with a ten inch pole.”

Hans rolled his eyes.

It felt incestuous knowing that I could potentially date some man that Hans or Dennis might have had a relationship with. While I appreciated their insight, I didn’t want to end up with sloppy seconds.

“What does DDF mean?” I asked Hans.

“Disease and drug free,” he said.

“Honey, did I tell you about the time I did LSD with my friend Angie from high school?” Dennis said. “Her mother opened the door to her bedroom and Angie shouted, ‘Shit, it’s my mother!’ I said that’s not your mother, it’s a big crow!  We started screaming and throwing pillows at her, trying to shoo her away.” 

Hans gave me an upside down smile, pushed himself up from the table, walked over to Dennis and kissed him. They put their arms around each other and started swaying back and forth, laughing. I watched them dance to music that only the two of them could hear. They were in madly in love with each other. When I looked at them, I could almost hear the music playing and if I narrowed my eyes just a bit?

I could almost see my future.


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The Best Medicine


Paul saunters into the hospital room, glances at me lying in the bed and throws the back of his hand to his forehead saying, “Pull the plug!  I can’t stand to see him suffering.” I shoot him a look. I am babysitting my pain, which is an alien living inside of my gut, clawing at my intestines, consuming all of my faculties. After four hours of suffering at home and an alarming text message from my friend Sam, Not to scare u but u have to act on abdominal pain bec the lining of ur intestines can rip and cause all types of poisoning in ur body!  I decided to make my inaugural visit to the Emergency Room.

“Let’s go before my stomach explodes,” I said wide-eyed, as Paul grabbed the car keys. 

He bent his head down like he was looking at a baby and attempted to rub my belly, but I swatted at him as if he was a gnat.

“The equipment is aging,” my physician told me during my last physical.  He is a thin man with hair on his face, to make up for the lack of it on his head and prone to making unvarnished and ill-timed statements. “How was your Valentine’s day?” he asked me once, while inspecting my prostate.

It is this aging equipment that concerns me now as I look at Paul, who is inspecting the tube taped to my arm. I mutter “Sweetie, get used to it. This is your future.”

I am a languishing Mimi to his Rodolfo. I am dramatized.

“Maybe we can fill this thing with a Cosmo,” Paul says, squeezing the IV bag.

“Don’t touch that!” I shout.    

It is a given that one of us will go first. When Paul travels for work, I take a vacation to his side of the bed.  Not because it is closer to the bathroom or because long ago, it used to be mine, but because I want to experience the world from his point of view. When you love someone, really love him, you want to become him.  I think that if my head falls asleep on his pillow, I will be able to peek into his dreams and wake up in the morning to see the world through his eyes. I want to understand what he sees in the man with the aging face he chose to wake up to for the rest of his life. And now, I wonder what he will feel when my side of the bed is empty.

I open one eye and examine the equipment in the room.

“Is one of these things a lipo machine?  Maybe my pain is coming from a thin layer of fat,” I say.

“You made a little joke,” Paul says cocking his head and smiling.

It is then, that I realize my pain has vanished.

When the resident, a young stoic, Indian woman enters, I am taking a selfie in my hospital gown. I apologize profusely for the lack of pain as she presses down on my abdomen.

“It was an eight or nine on the pain scale,” I promise.

She nods her head.

“Heart burn,” she says as she hands me my discharge papers.

“Lack of attention,” Paul will later change the diagnosis, when I recount the harrowing experience, ad nauseum, to friends.

Paul reminds me that I came into this world with a slap and a wail and I’ll leave it with a slap and a tickle if he has anything to do with it. If that’s my future, I can accept the prognosis.


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Memoir of a Gay Date


Kyle reaches across the table, gingerly plucks one French fry from my plate and coos “Oh, I really shouldn't eat this; a girl has to watch her figure.” He bats his eyelashes, which I suppose he thinks is adorable and then asks “Am I just horrible?” A mudslide that destroys an entire neighborhood is horrible.  A plane that crashes in a terrific fireball is horrible.  Stealing a single French fry from your date’s plate is not horrible. Unless you are a forty something year old man who calls himself a girl, while attempting to feign an adorable devil-may-care face. Then yes, this is horrible.

“Why don’t you take the rest?” I offer. My appetite has vanished.

“I couldn’t,” he smiles and then glances sideways at me, “Well, maybe just a few.”

In his profile picture he looked blonde, complex and devilishly impish.  On the phone, his personality was a mixture of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Katharine Hepburn.  There was a certain “je-ne-sais-quois” quality about him. 

“I just arranged a birthday brunch for my friend,” he says rolling his eyes at the word brunch, as if to say it has come to this, then continues “I simply cannot stay out all night like I used to. My friends tell me I’m a bitch. I am!”

In person, he is not a mixture of anything, he IS Katharine Hepburn. In short, he is simply not my type. He is Spencer Tracy’s type. I wish that I could just go ahead and tell him this.  But, I am new to the dating scene and have not learned how to be ruthless.

“You know, you should change your profile picture,” he says.  Kyle has learned how to be ruthless.

“Oh, what’s wrong with my picture?” I ask

“Well, there is nothing wrong with it per se. It’s just that you’re not smiling.  You look so serious in it, well like now,” he says.

That is when it strikes me how deceptive the thumbnail profile photographs are.  From a distance many men look really attractive, but when you expand them, you see all of their flaws.  The eyes are too close, or the teeth require work, or there is something just not quite right about the way all of the parts are put together. And then there are the photographs that look too good.  The lighting is soft and reminiscent of a Parisian sunset in autumn, the skin flawless and the features chiseled like Roman Gods.  These men are too beautiful to be in love with anyone other than themselves, or else they have become extremely proficient in Photoshop, in which case they are still in love with the image of themselves.  

I chose a photograph of myself that was truthful, yet flattering.  It was one that my daughter had taken of me.  In it, I am standing in a church parking lot, wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a pensive look on my face. In the background, you could see the steeple surrounded by blue skies and billowing clouds. But, the photograph was less about what was behind me and more about what was in front of me. From her angle, my daughter captured someone who appeared solid, tall and ready to move forward.

We finish dinner and Kyle insists on walking me to my car. He pops a breath-mint in his mouth, puts his hand on my waist and offers “Mint?” I am in danger of becoming a human French fry. I do not mask my horror.

“You know Kyle, I just want you to know that I think I'm becoming serious with another guy,” I ruthlessly lie. Time to move forward.

Am I just horrible?


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How to Become a Blogger For The Huffington Post


As a Huffington Post blogger, I get paid in exposure, which is to say I am about one more post away from being over-exposed on the Internet. While exposure does not pay the bills, it does build an audience, and anyone who is familiar with Kim Kardashian's rise to fame will tell you, there is no such thing as bad publicity. I'd like to share my insights on how to become a Huffington Post blogger. No sex tape is needed.

Read the Huffington Post:
 This sounds so basic and simple but many people who have asked me how to become a Huffpo blogger have never done this. You need to understand the style of writing that works on the website and get to know what type of subject garners the most attention. Look for posts that have many comments, shares and likes in your specific area of interest.

Get to know the verticals:
 The Huffington Post is comprised of a multitude of special interest sections called verticals. Each of these verticals publishes content that is targeted to a specific demographic or interest. You'll find these verticals listed under the masthead. Examples include Religion, Gay Voices, Post50, Politics, Comedy and Sports. The list goes on and on. On one occasion I had a blog post published in Gay Voices, Religion, Comedy and Politics all at the same time. This may be more of a statement about our current state of affairs than it is about how The Huffington Post is organized. The key here is that you have a voice that will resonate in a specific vertical. Find it.

Get to know the editor of the vertical:
 Once you find the vertical that you would like to write for (You can write for any vertical, once the first post has been published), find out who the editor is. You can do this several ways. Many times the editor will have a blog post published on the vertical, or you can search for the vertical name and the word "editor" in the search the bar. Or you can click on this link: Editors

Write your post
: Once you have the previous steps complete, craft a post that falls somewhere between 500-700 words. Make it current, crisp and unique. While the Huffington Post employs editors, they do not have much time to perform significant editing on a piece. It should be free of spelling errors and grammatically correct. My first piece published was a post about my father, and it was submitted three days before Father's Day. Tie your piece to current events.

Email a link to the editor
: Remember the step "Get to know the editor?" You are going to submit a link to him/her and not to the general submission box. I'm pretty sure that is just a waste basket. The email address for the editor will not be listed in plain sight. This is where you will need to perform some sleuthing. Maybe it is in a post the editor wrote, or on another site, maybe on Twitter. You have the name; you can find the email address. If you have a personal blog, post your piece there and then email a link of your post to the editor with a quick message, something like:
"I am a big fan of Huffpost vertical name and have been enjoying the articles and posts. The following link is a post I wrote on my personal website that I think might be a good fit for vertical name. Thank you for any consideration. I hope you enjoy reading it."
If you don't have a personal blog, just include the post in plain text in the email. Make sure the first sentence grabs your audience.
Once your post is accepted, be ready with a quick two to three sentence bio and a headshot. When your post is published, make certain that your personal website, blog, Twitter handle, etc. are included at the bottom of the post. The whole reason for publishing here is to build your brand.

You may have noticed that I did not tell you how to write your piece. That is because there is no formula for this. You have a unique and authentic voice that no one else can match. Find a subject matter that you are passionate about. One of my proudest accomplishments was receiving a personal email from a reader of one of my posts. The writer told me I had helped him evolve on a subject matter that is very important to me. Write clearly, concisely and draw a conclusion. This worked for me and has generated a great amount of exposure -- and I never had to take off my shirt.

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Sheila's Secret Sauce


I was an unseasoned nineteen year old, when my Aunt Sheila and her psychic girlfriend deposited me like a sack of flour on her friends’ front porch in Central City, Colorado.  They were a couple of “old gay rednecks from the hill country,” Barrel chested Harry would say while running Texas-sized fingers through his mop of brown hair.

“Speak for yourself, you old queen,” his partner Bob would reply, tittering about, while Harry swatted at him like a June bug.

They operated Saddle Bag Bakery, in the center of the old mining town on Eureka Road nestled in a crevice along the ridge of the Rockies. The only remaining gold came from the pockets of super-sized tourists gasping in the rarified air, who would shell out a few bucks for a cream cheese and strawberry jelly pastry and tromp through a tour of The Lost Gold Mine, following a skinny teenager with a battery powered lamp (yours truly).

Sheila and I had been turned out of her tidy Denver home by my aunt’s partner, who in a fit of jealous rage lobbed a pot over the fence at Sheila, barely missing my head. “Cook your fucking fetuccine alfredo for your new truck driver girlfriend,” she shouted, insulting both my aunt’s signature dish and her saucy new girlfriend.

Sheila cupped her hands around a lighter, picked up the pot and then calmly said with cigarette perched in the corner of her mouth, “I paid a lot of money for this.” You could talk smack about any number of things, but when it came to her cooking, the buck stopped here.

“I suppose I should have seen that coming,” Sheila said.

Or maybe? Her psychic, truck driver girlfriend, Stella, should have.

And so I found myself living with two gay bakers while my aunt searched for a new place to live, until 
one night I was awakened by the rustling of sheets and the scrape of a toenail desperately in need of a pedicure against my leg.

“Bob?” I stuttered, “You’re in the wrong bedroom. Where’s Harry?”  I was woefully innocent. 

“He’s down at the shop baking,” he said, snaking an arm around my waist.

And then it dawned on me that Bob had not made a logistical mistake.  I was like a Hostess Twinkie that he could not resist.

“You should join him,” I said and watched him sulk out of the bedroom like an old dog denied a table scrap.

After wedging a chair beneath the doorknob for the rest of the night, I placed a call to my aunt the next morning and that afternoon we moved into an unfurnished apartment with a couple of mattresses on the floor and a brand new set of expensive baking dishes in the kitchen.

“Where’s Stella?” I inquired.

“Didn’t last,” Sheila said while pulling out a pot. “Besides, now I’ll get to spend more time with you.”

“Honey, why don’t you make us a couple of vodka tonics, while I prepare my secret sauce,” she motioned towards the freezer door.  When I turned around with glasses in hand, Sheila was unscrewing the top of store bought alfredo.

“This’ll be our little secret,” she said.

That evening we dined on paper plates under the shadows of the Rockies, sharing stories and getting sauced.  If food truly is a metaphor for love, that summer, I got my fill.

         
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Driving Instructions


We are driving in circles.  From my reclined position in the back seat of the car, I watch the glass square of sunroof above us become blue, cloudy, blue then cloudy again, the mirror image of a hawk turning lazy circles in the sky.

“Keep going, keep going, keep going!” Paul is offering directions and then adds “Sometimes the safest pedal is the one on the right.”

With this bit of advice the car lurches forward.

“That’s it!” he says.

Beanie’s posture behind the wheel is as stiff as a pose from a nineteenth century daguerreotype portrait, her face as stoic and her complexion just as pale. 

“You act like you’re driving a piece of glass,” Paul says.

I want to add that we are surrounded by multiple pieces of glass, which can shatter into a million razor sharp shards upon impact, but I withhold this information. My job, as I have been told many times before, is to sit here or in this case, to lie down and look pretty. I am keeping my head, indeed my entire body out of Beanie’s field of vision.

“See how I’m turning my head? I’m always looking left and right, left and right, left and right,” Paul says as he demonstrates, his head bouncing like a bobble head doll and then adds “Ow,” when his neck cracks.  

We continue our Sunday afternoon tour of the Lowe’s parking lot in Sanford, Maine. I lie still as a corpse, biting my tongue, while Paul tosses out dubious bits of wisdom, “Don’t think, just drive!”

I don’t remember my father giving me driving lessons, although he did throw out doubtful snippets of word vomit.  It was the type of thing parents said when they were navigating their own treacherous intersections and didn’t have time to think about the word pairings.

“The army would make a man out of you,”

“Just join us for one date with my girlfriend’s daughter,”

“Do you really think you can support yourself with a degree in music?”

The words seemed benign enough, but when combined with my own heightened sense of insecurity they sent me in a direction in life that required some back tracking.

I remember when I was eighteen, on a hot summer day when even the breeze seemed to be heated up by the sun, sitting in a diner with my father on a stretch of road somewhere in the middle of North Carolina, a dot on the map.  We had come to Asheville to rescue my grandmother’s old blue Chevy Nova from her failing eyesight and trembling hand that was more accustomed to holding a highball than a steering wheel.

“Son,” he said, the same name he used to address all five of his boys, “You finish your lunch up here, I’ve got to go.”

“Honey!” he shouted out to the waitress, the same name he used to address every woman and gave her a twenty.  He left to the tinkling of a bell over the door before I could swallow my chew.

Faced with the challenge of finding my own way home, before the advent of gps or smart phones and in a strange car with no air conditioning, I tentatively pulled onto the highway. Within minutes, I peeled off my sweat soaked shirt, rolled down the windows and cranked up the radio. Like it or not, I was driving down this road on my own, searching for signs.

If you were a hawk and could see a great distance, you’d laugh at all of the circles and mistaken exits I have taken. But no one can deny, lying in this backseat, listening to my husband teach our own daughter how to drive, I finally found my way home.



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A Quick Load


I met George at a support group for gay fathers.  He was not a father, had never been married, but he had been engaged to a woman once, and I suppose that made him feel like he had been close enough to the blade. The rest of us opened up our wrists every Wednesday night in a semi-circle in the basement of a Unitarian Universalist Church in a Boston suburb, airing dirty laundry with our “God knows I tried,” stories. 

We would pass the talking stick around and one by one, a nervous guy would fidget, tug at his collar and stammer through this week’s trials and tribulations on the road to, I don’t know where, but it sure as hell wasn’t here.

When the talking stick landed in George’s lap, he stood up and the room took notice.  He was broad shouldered, cocky and wore a blonde crew cut.  He was shaped like a refrigerator, all hard angles and cool.

“I’m not a father,” he said and the room of enraptured men replied “That’s OK!”

“I can’t say I’ve ever been married,” he continued and the room shouted “Good for you!”

“When I told my mother I was gay, she said you must get it from your father’s side,” he said and the applause was so thunderous that you would have thought that God had just farted.

When the meeting was over, word went around that perhaps we should all just walk over to the local bar and continue the support over a libation of our choosing, give us a chance to talk in a less formal setting, which was code for “hook-up.”  The apple-tinis, cosmos and chardonnays were cast aside for something more manly seeming, like beer, in the presence of “box boy.” The appellation was justified, as later we would learn that in addition to being shaped like a box, he also sold them for a living.

I was the lucky one who nabbed his number, or he nabbed mine.  In any case I ended up speaking with him on the phone for an hour or two that night replying “uh-huh” and “you don’t say,” while he told me what a catch he was.

“I’m looking for something long term,” he said.

“So am I,” I replied.

When I met him the following Sunday at his home he wanted to show me his hobby, which was a collection of vintage washing machines in his basement.  Now, most people would begin to second guess a relative stranger’s invitation to voluntarily venture into their basement to take a gander at their “hobby,” but I decided to find it cute and quirky.  It wasn’t like he held up a rag and asked me if it smelled like chloroform.    

We never made it to the basement. We hardly made it from the sofa and we never made it to a second date. I was foolish.  He just wanted to wash a quick load. Maybe we were both looking for something long-term.  It just wasn’t with each other
       


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Eye of The Beholder


I am taking pictures of the clouds with my iPhone and casting a shadow over Paul. He is lying on his stomach in the driveway,scrubbing the rim of a car tire with a brush specifically designed for this task, when he grunts “Can you find something to do for an hour?”

An hour really isn't long enough to do something productive like exercise or write and I have already taken the opportunity to go for a run on the beach, while Paul cleaned the gas grill.  It is a found hour, sort of like a crumpled twenty dollar bill you might pull out of your pocket.  Not enough to buy something you really want, like say, a life sized golden piggy bank, but enough to make you a little giddy with the possibilities.

I decide to take a selfie and try photo-shopping different eye colors, which is not as easy as it sounds. First, if your eyes are as beady as mine, you need to take a picture where they appear open, but not like they are in a state of shock; as if someone has told you that golden piggy bank costs more than $100, for example. Then, you need to get the right size software tool to color the iris and erase the spot over the pupil.  If you go too blue, then it just looks fake.

When Paul opens the front door and enters the kitchen, I am surprised that an hour has passed. He glances over my shoulder at the laptop screen and asks “Did you spend an hour on that?”

“I know,” I exclaim and then add “It’s really tricky, getting this to look real.”

He wipes the sweat from his forehead and stares at me without blinking, which is when I realize that his eyes are a mixture of brown and hazel and that this subtlety is exactly what I am missing.   As I adjust the tool and zoom in on the picture of my eyes, Paul grabs a rag and the spray bottle of vinegar and plods to the bathroom, where I assume he is going to clean the glass shower doors. I’m proud that I suggested a dual headed shower, though it requires more cleaning. I have learned not to complain about the vinegar smell.

It is precisely this moment when I realize his suggestion of finding something to do for an hour might have meant anything other than performing virtual cosmetic surgery, which is why I think our relationship works.  I bring a sense of whimsy to his otherwise strictly ordered life.

The next morning, Paul is driving me to work while The Captain and Tennille are singing on the radio about how love will always keep them together. Unfortunately, it did not.  Toni was always the bubbly outgoing one and The Captain was content hiding behind the piano. Something must have changed, a power struggle perhaps. Maybe The Captain said “You know Ton, I’d really like to get up and dance the fandango when we sing Muskrat Love,” to which Toni replied “It’s the Tango you buffoon! And that spotlight is mine, bitch!”

I offer to drive us in to work.

Paul rolls his eyes and says “Honey, I’d really like an enjoyable ride in today.”

Maybe our roles are as immutable as our eye color, but I know our emotional piggy bank will always remain full, because unlike Toni, I’m not a diva and I’m willing to bend.  Good thing we met later in life when our interests were equally shared, but if we ever need to change, I know we will, because we both have the right set of tools and more importantly?

We know how to use them.  

  

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Word Fishers


When you are writing a memoir, each morning you sit at your desk and kill your father, slander your mother and shame your children.  This is the price that you pay for seeking your version of the truth and that truth is like a wadded up ball of string that you pick away at slowly.  You may be able to get a purchase on the beginning and the end, but the middle seems hopelessly riddled with knots.

Once you untangle the twine, you are not even half way there.  You tie a hook on the end and throw it into a sea of words and hope to catch something, anything.  Most days pass without a tug.  Then, you feel a slight nibble and you struggle to reel it in.  Sometimes the catch is too small, sometimes too big and still others are monsters with razor sharp teeth and dark eyes too terrifying to consider. You cut the line.

At night, when sleep eludes you, the words swim through your mind. 

They shudder with a bright silvery flourish just beyond your grasp, but you try to remember. In the morning you say “Here, this is the spot,” and cast your line.  If you are patient, you catch a few and then some more until the boat is teeming with words.

Once you have enough, you select the best and prepare them, fry them, broil them, bake them; add a bit of salt here, add a dash of spice there until they are ready to be consumed.  You place your dish proudly in front of other fishers of words.

You wait.

You wait.

You wait.

“This dish is too cold.”

“This dish is too hot.”

“This dish stinks.”

They pick apart the words and spit out the bones.  They ask if you considered baking it less or baking it more or adding this spice or just throwing the whole damn thing out and starting all over again.

You swear off fishing for words. 

“I can sit on the beach with my friends,” you say.  They seem perfectly happy, you think. You rest.  You drink.  You go out to dinner, but you cannot stop thinking about the monster that lurks in the murky depths of the ocean. 

The next morning, when the world is sleeping and your dreams are like the mist on the sea, your line breaks the glossy surface. You let it sink deeper and deeper until it reaches the abyss where the weight of the words on the string threatens to capsize the boat.  You kill your father, slander your mother and shame your children. Because you know that if you don’t catch the words,the words will devour you.   
 
    

  

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