It’s not that I think I could have saved you;

I’m not that much of a fool, or an

Optimist. Saving you was up to you, and

you fought really hard, but failed.

Or maybe death was your final success, in

freeing yourself of all the chains

binding you, holding you down, holding you back.

My failure isn’t not saving your twenty-five year old self

My failure happened ten years before, when you were

too young to know how wrong things could go;

when you depended upon me to make the right choices,

to know the right things, to

set the horror right. I tried. I was the one who was supposed to know

everything. And I didn’t.

**

If I could go back in time (I’ve thought of this a lot. Fool that I am)

I’d go back to that day, ten years prior, when I got to the school

and found you on the ground (the irony doesn’t escape me)

One leg a full half-foot shorter than the other. I leaned over you,

I smiled and stroked your face. “It’s going to be fine, sweetheart.”

The ambulance was on its way. It was a dislocation,

so much better than a break, right?

But it wasn’t, and it wasn’t. It was so much worse.

Too many hours lost. Too much damage done. Two percent chance of saving

that leg. That damned leg.

This what I’d change–I’d tell them to take it off.

What they left caused it all. I’m ninety-eight percent convinced.

It would have been done. Over. And only the rebuilding.

A new life you would have made without the constant drag

of all that pain,

that became pain-killers that didn’t work,

that fed all the sorrow of losing who you’d been,

that became so much anxiety,

that became a speeding train always barreling down,

that became “please someone save me!” That became

heroin.

This what I’d change, if I could. But I can’t. Maybe,

in some postulated, parallel reality, I told them,

“Take the leg.” Not in this reality.

I lost you then, and didn’t even know, I, who was supposed to know

everything.

 

 

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Morning Thoughts

My head tends to be a bit crowded in the morning, when I first wake up. I made the note in my little “line a day” journal this morning, that it’s no wonder I write. If I didn’t, where would all those thoughts go?

This morning, the thoughts in my head wandered to a story I’m excited to get to, tentatively titled The Empty Spaces. Briefly:

Bonnie-Jane dashes out of the woods behind the farmhouse where she grew up, sweating and out of breath and knowing two things: One, she’s late and mama’s going to be mad; and two, she has to get there before her baby wakes up from her nap. When she gets home, the baby is thirteen, her mother has died, and Bonnie-Jane has been missing for eleven years. 

I know where she’s been, and I know the whimsical why and how that came about, but the hard facts of what happened to cause the initial vanishing have eluded me. It came to me this morning, in a round-about way. The story isn’t what happened, it’s about what happens next.

Since Chris died, there is a definite theme in my writing–the Unanswered Question. A Thousand Different Ways, Entangled, Heroically Lost, and next The Empty Spaces all have that element to some degree. By the end of the book/s, the unanswered question is still unanswered. You have plenty of information to decide for yourself; that’s where I leave it. And I didn’t consciously realize this, and the connection to Christofer’s death, until this morning.

Life is full of unanswered questions, things we have to decide for ourselves to the best of our ability, and let go. We can see with our eyes, know in our hearts, but hard and definite answers are still elusive. Perspectives differ. Memories are more about the person remembering than the actual facts. Heartfelt, gut instinct is rife with the trap doors of our pasts. Comparatively, there are few absolutes, and we are left with our best guesses.

I think I’m good with the Unanswered Questions. At least, I know better than to bang my head too hard against that wall. There comes a time when you have to make your best guess, accept that there’s no way to 100% know and be okay with it.

Maybe I’m getting there. Maybe I’m still trying. And I’m okay with that.

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A Surprise Visit

I used to dream of my late husband, Brian, on a regular basis, like a standing date kept. It always happened in the same setting–Goffle Brook Park in Hawthorne, NJ. We’d sit at a picnic table there, and catch up. He’d ask about the kids, about me, the family. Chit-chat, always pleasant.

Three years of dreaming him back into my world; and then I met Frank. I still dreamed him, but less often. Still the same, pleasant visit. Every time. And then I became pregnant with Christofer.

We met in Goffle Brook Park that last time, as always. I felt, more than saw, someone standing behind him. Brian was slightly uncomfortable. He looked at me, a little sheepish, and said, “Are you good now?”

“I am.” I remember smiling, and taking his hand across the table. “What about you?” I asked. “Are you good?”

He nodded and, one hand holding mine, he reached out the other and brought forth a young lady. All I remember about her was she had long, dark hair. Like his mom’s. Like Jamie’s. Whoever she was, she brought him happiness, and peace.

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Memory is a funny thing. Unreliable, but absolute. This dream is as clear to me now as it was years and years ago, but who’s to say how accurate, how many embellishments or subtractions have been made over time? It’s what I remember. At the end of it all, it’s the content, not the detail, that matters most. He came to me, made sure I was finally okay, and moved on.

I miss him every. Single. Day.

I am not one for Heaven and Hell. Though I’m not arrogant enough to state any absolutes concerning what there is, or isn’t, after Death, I’m not a believer in one Almighty Being. Death is as big a mystery as Life, and I don’t have the mental capacity to unravel that mystery. I know what I know. I feel what I feel. And whether Brian used to visit me in some ethereal form or it was my brain pulling him back to that picnic table in Hawthorne, I felt him. He was there.

It has been 28 years since the last time I dreamed that so-real presence of him. Though I’m not 100% sold on any form of Afterlife, my leanings bend towards that karmic notion of learning lessons, moving on, coming back to learn those lessons still left. And now I have a new ghost visiting me in dreams. So imagine how surprised I was to find myself sitting across the table from Brian again, the other night, in a dream still so clear I can see his smile.

It wasn’t Goffle Brook Park this time, but the Train Station in New Milford, where I have held book signings, birthday parties, and baby showers. He flopped into the chair opposite me, slightly out of breath.

“What are you doing here?” I hugged him across the table. The happiness, it fills me even now.

I don’t remember his response, but it led to me saying, “Wow, I thought you were already back. It’s been so long. I’ve looked for you.”

“Nah,” Brian said. “I’m just not ready yet.”

There are dreams, and then there are visitations. There’s no denying which one is which. Not all dreams of Brian were visits from him, just like all dreams of Chris aren’t. But when they are there–conjured from my brain or in some ethereal form–they are THERE. Brian was with me, the other night, and knowing he is where Chris is makes me happy in ways I can’t quite articulate.

I had to immortalize my dream, here on this page, though I don’t imagine I’ll forget it any more than I’ve forgotten that one 28 years ago. Maybe, when I’m old and memories jumble, I’ll remember these dream-memories as awake-events. They’ll wend and weave around one another, bringing together those who could not have otherwise met. I like that idea, quite a lot, actually. All my beloved-beyonds are stored in the same place, why not let them dance?

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My House Smells Amazing

Mmmmm…my whole house smells like the best meal you’ve every had at your Nonnie’s house. Some friends are coming over for dinner tonight, and I’m making macaroni and gravy. Not pasta and sauce, mind you. That’s an entirely different thing.

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macaroni and gravy

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pasta and sauce

See the difference?

In my Southern Italian, Northern NJ world, macaroni was macaroni. There was no “pasta” when I was growing up. I’ve since come to define the difference as such: macaroni is the dried product, while pasta is the thing you find in the refrigerator case, or make fresh. The internet disagrees with me. It says pasta is the dough, and what you make out of it comes in many shapes and sizes, and they’re all called pasta. It also tells me that macaroni is a particular shape–the elbow kind usually found in macaroni and cheese. Tell this to my Grandma Grace, or my Nonnie. They’d look at you like you had spaghetti growing out of your ears, hit you with the wooden spoon, and tell you to put the water on. As it is, they can only roll over in their graves.

In my Southern Italian, Northern NJ world, gravy has meat in it. It cooks for hours and hours and hours. Low and slow. You use regular olive oil, canned tomatoes, and dried herbs (oregano, basil, garlic) because fresh would never hold up. You need the kind that will lovingly, languidly give up all those essential oils. Fresh herbs would lose all their flavor long before the meat became fall-apart tender. Garlic can go bitter. After letting it barely simmer for three, four hours, you add a bit of red wine, a knot or two of butter, let it simmer another fifteen minutes and take it off the heat to spend the next couple of hours melding all that deliciousness into the zesty, hearty, unbutton your pants because you’re definitely having seconds dinner later on.

In my Southern Italian, Northern NJ world, sauce* is typically made with all fresh ingredients, because you’re not cooking it for more than half an hour. Sauce is lighter, more delicate, and loves to slather itself all over clams, shrimp, scallops. It likes vermouth or white wine better than red, and extra virgin olive oil better than the regular kind, or butter. Though, lets be honest, there’s really nothing on the planet butter can’t make better. In this kind of sauce, you can add a little lemon to impart that acidic zing, a zing you’d never notice in gravy’s ponderous deliciousness.

Sauce is far more versatile. It’s a better vehicle for creativity. It allows other ingredients to shine, while keeping the starring role. “Oh, wow,” you’ll hear. “Are those capers? Do I taste fennel?”

Gravy is a powerhouse. It shares the limelight with no one. It’s that thing you long for on cold winter nights, or after a long day doing yard work. No one is going to remark on all the layers of flavor, or your subtle use of thyme. There will be a lot of grunting, plate licking, and bread dipping, though.

I’m aware that my Southern Italian, Northern NJ versions of gravy and sauce aren’t everyone’s, but I am curious to know what yours is, if you care to share.

*Sauce doesn’t have to be tomato based, but this is the one I’m talking about. 

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Happy Birthday To Me

What a great birthday. I saw both my girls, their lovely men, my grandbabies. I spoke to my son out in Portland, my parents, my siblings. Frankie D and I went to NYC with dear friends. Dinner was had–oh, my, was it had. I got to see Beauty and the Beast, and enjoyed it completely. LaFou (Josh Gad) was my favorite character, though Daniel Evans (DAVID!!! for those who watch Legion) and Emma Watson were fabulous. The whole cast was. Nice little changes made it new.

And then there were all the amazing, lovely, deeply appreciated messages on Facebook. I read every one, and hopefully responded to them all. You do me the honor, I can do no less than thank you.

There were also tears, for the one always missing, of course. There are always tears. They don’t ruin the good times, though. I’m learning to let them co-exist.

So thank you, everyone, for not just making my birthday fabulous, but my everything. Some lament social media, cyberworld, claiming it’s cold and dangerous and insincere. It can be, sure, but it is what you make it, what you allow it to be. For me, it’s just grand.

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Some Big News

The German translation of A Thousand Different Ways will be published by Bastei Lübbe (Cologne, Germany.) How freaking cool is that, huh?

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Long, slow fade

You were here; you were real.

I have to keep reminding myself.

Over and over. You were here;

you were real. It feels so strange

to know, and yet difficult to grasp.

I see your picture, my handsome son, or

that spot in the upstairs bathroom, the chemical

I can’t remove from the pedestal sink.

“I was here,” it tells me. “Don’t forget.”

Forgetting isn’t possible, but this fade…

This fade is intolerable. It makes the

sorrow hit harder when it comes, after

days of being kindly absent.

How can it be? How can it be!

You were here; you were real.

You were here; you were real.

Child of my body. Being of my blood.

My heart. My everything. And now

you’re gone and fading. Your presence

isn’t as strong upon the world you left behind,

or in dreams still connecting these planes we inhabit.

Until that curtain between sorrow and kindness falls

and you fly at me like bats from a cave

at sunset, in movies, in nature shows on television.

I open my arms and catch all of you I can, but

it’s never enough. I’m not fast enough, strong enough,

clever enough to trap so wild a being, one who

doesn’t want to be caught. You were here;

you were real. You were here;

you were real.

You were here. You were.

Weren’t you?

 

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A Little Clarification

About that headshot…

Please understand, it’s not that I don’t like how I look; it’s that I don’t look like me in (most) photos. I hate posed. I’m an animated sort of person, and posing just feels fake. As does dolling up or otherwise glitzing (sparkles are completely acceptable though.) I don’t wear make-up of any kind. Ever. Ok, once in a while I’ll put on some mascara. The thought of this posed picture puts in mind all those things I, personally, can’t stand. It’s creating an illusion of who I am when I am perfectly happy, in fact, ridiculously content, with who I am. It took me a long time to get here. It’s not a position I’ll give up willingly.

In many pictures, even the candid ones, I often lamented that I look either angry or drunk. I’m rarely the former, and never the latter. It’s very rare someone takes a pic of me that I truly love, that I feel absolutely me in. I adore the pic of me I use on Facebook, and the sketch that sprang from it, above. It captures ME. Mischievous gleam, messy hair, no make-up, tiara. ME. I don’t want to put a fake me out into the world. It’s not that I don’t feel fabulous enough; it’s that I feel completely fabulous as I am. I can’t stress that enough, especially for my girls who are convinced I think I’m a hideous monster who eschews the light of day.

A posed pic of me, made up, hair coiffed? Not gonna happen. It’s not an opportunity for me to have some fun, but a step backwards into a me I don’t want to be. Ever. Maybe that seems a bit militant, even silly. What’s the big deal, right? For me, it is.

If I had my way, there would be no pictorial evidence of me whatsoever. I truly feel, and call it hubris (because it pretty much is,) a photo cannot capture me in all my glory. Without going into a long, sad story of how I got to this point, suffice it to say I got here via a road I don’t want to tread again.

So I’ll go and get the headshots done MY way, maybe even try to get a “more acceptable” recreation of the pic I love. If I can’t get a pic I’m as happy with as the one my friend (Sharon) snapped of me that day at lunch, many months ago, I’m going to push for using it because it’s MY image, and I have every right to say what that image is. Right?

*Disclaimer~I have no issue whatsoever with anyone who loves to glam it up, wear make-up, pose for the perfect pic, etc. If that’s your thing, THAT’S YOUR THING. And good for you! It’s just not mine. Savvy?

Pics of me I love.

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Home again, home again! Jiggity-jig!

That nursery rhyme has been bumping about my head since touching down in Newark Airport yesterday. It was an amazing trip. I got to spend a lot of time with my younger brother and his wife (something I’ve never done) as well as my parents, older brother, and his husband, Jon (who I spend way more time with throughout the year.) Spain, France, Italy–it was beyond fabulous, a bit of a whirlwind, and unforgettable.

Viking does it right. The ship was gorgeous, lots to do without being all glitzy and “Las Vegas.”First class all the way. I highly recommend the line, and will take another cruise with them in a heartbeat. Food–A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. And plentiful.

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I’m not going to recount day by day in great detail, just in recap. Barcelona is a gorgeous city I wish I’d had more time in. I saw some Gaudi, though not the Sagrada Familia Cathedral (I know, I know–insane!) As will become apparent as I recap, there’s only so much one can do in a day, timewise and energywise.

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This is where Picasso hung out with his pals.

Toulon’s hightlight was actually a side trip to the little seaside village of Cassis. During the summer, it hops with tourists of all kinds, but this is pre-season and we got to walk around without the mobs. What a beautiful little city!

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We went to a wine tasting (the area is known for its whites,) had coffee at a sidewalk cafe, ate candy, and then went on a scenic boat tour through the Calanques. Kind of like fjiords.

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Corsica was like nothing I anticipated. As I learned, it’s actually part of the Alps, and until about 1936, the people lived up in the mountains like any other alpine community. The sea brought bad things like invaders and illness, so they kept to the interior. I wish we’d gotten to see some of that way of life, but the coast was gorgeous.

 

 

 

Firenze (how can I ever think of it as Florence again??) how I wish I’d had more time! But this was about getting the flavor, not the whole mouthful. Just being there was so…immersive. I felt the antiquity, the culture. Of course, there is David, but there are also many more masterpieces the Medici family left to the city of Firenze, under the condition they not only stay in the city, but remain visible to all. (Seen below: Rape of the Sabine Women, Perseus, and Hercules.)

 

Pisa, I was told, is the leaning tower and nothing more. WRONG! I could have stayed there many hours. We did the obligatory, “Hold up the tower!” pic.

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Dad and Frankie D.

Rome–it’s nothing like New York City, and everything like it. Busy, busy, busy. Shopping. People of all nations everywhere you look. Yet ancient. Wow. There’s no way to quite describe it. You’ve seen my pics, along with a gazillion pics of the Coloseum, the Forum, etc. Instead, I’ll tell you about the last night Frank and I had, alone, in Rome. Magical, actually, but we said so many times, “I wish they were here!” We had dinner in (supposedly) the birthplace of fetuccini Alfredo, and spent a few hours just meandering the almost catacomb-like streets of shops and shops and shops. A good way to spend our last night in Italy.

 

 

It’s out of order, but I saved Villefranche for last because it was my favorite stop, and totally NOT on the itinerary. When we got to Monaco, the high winds wouldn’t allow us to dock on that side of the peninsula, so we went around back and docked outside of Villefranche, France. I could have spent a week in this little seaside village with tons of history, a few little shops, and a pebbled beach. THIS is my speed. I appreciate the big cities for their culture and importance, but give me “little” any day. It’s just as old, and feels way more “real.”

We had lunch in a great place overlooking the Mediterranean, saw the Old City, walked along the seaside, sat on the beach, and drank coffee sitting on a couch set up on the sea wall. I had Viennese coffee. Mmmm….It was a magical day. (Mark and Elaine did get to Monaco. It was an option I decided not to take, and am very glad.)

 

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Thus ends my European adventure. We had so much fun sightseeing and playing blackjack at the electronic tables during happy hour. Food and food and food. I hope we do this again, one day. Europe twice in a year is a bit much (first world problems, I know–poor me.) Spending time with Michael and Jon, Mark and Elaine, Mom and Dad was the best part of all.

And, of course, my Frankie D.

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A Thousand Different Ways

Because so many have asked, “What’s the book about?” and because I’m woefully lame about getting the words out of my head without assistance from fingers and keyboard, I thought I’d leave it here for those curious to know.

Note: Though I contributed, this pitch was largely generated by Beloved Agent Janna, who is so much better at brevity than I.

***

Alfonse Carducci was a man of words, a literary giant who lived his life to excess. He’s come to The Bar Harbor Home for the Elderly—affectionately dubbed The Pen—to spend the remainder of his days among his most-beloved friends, the publishing industry’s nearly gone but never forgotten greats. Only now, at the end of life, does he comprehend the aftermath of appeasing every desire, and the consequences of forsaking love to pursue greatness. He’s lost more than his health; he’s lost the words that drove him. Until his muse is awakened by a young and beautiful monster hiding more than her face from the world.

Cecibel Bringer knows first-hand the cost of chasing excess. Passion destroyed her face and her sister in a split-second decision Cecibel can never forgive, though she tried to forget. Living quietly as an orderly, refusing to risk again the cost of love, Cecibel never anticipated the impact Alfonse Carducci would have on her existence.

In Cecibel, Alfonse finds a muse who returns to him the passion he thought he’d forfeited forever. As the words flow from him, weaving a tale taken up by the other inmates of the Pen, Cecibel is reawakened to the idea of love and forgiveness. The edges between story and reality blur, creating a world within a world where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole and anything is possible.

***

The story written by the “old greats” takes the form of a novella within the novel. Remember my novella rant? Yeah, this is part of it. While the novella within has chapter headings (strictly speaking, a novella doesn’t) that was a necessary evil for clarity’s sake.

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