Category Archives: Essays

How to plan a funeral

Message your family first. Call your wife. Tell them, she’s gone.

Sit vigil by her bedside until your brother arrives. Her brother brings espresso; her sister brings a cake. They had promised her something with flavor, near the end. Her brother touches a cup to her lips.

Go to her house. Start to assess what needs to be done: estate sale, house cleaning, realtor. Spend an hour or two catching her cats.

Collect her ashes from the funeral home.

Go to dinner with your family. She would have liked that. Order tequila shots all around; she would have liked that, too.

“She didn’t want a funeral,” her sister says. Try not to hate yourself for being relieved.

Swallow your tequila. Start planning something else: a vacation, maybe, to scatter her ashes somewhere she loved.


The boys next door

The knock at the door came at a bad time.

I’d driven for two days straight with a car full of things from my dead mom’s house–on the anniversary of her death, no less. One kid was in the bath, the other was clamoring for dinner. The neighbors were having a Sunday evening backyard party despite the drizzle and we had to shut the kitchen window because it was so noisy. The Kavanaugh debacle was still fresh in my mind and I was still angry. All I wanted was a glass of wine and to shake the knots out of my shoulders.

“It might be someone we know,” my wife said, and so I stomped to the door, ready to snip at whoever was there, and yanked it open.

“Hi,” said the rather good-looking young man on our porch. He was barefoot and held a can of beer in his hand. “We really need someone to take a group picture.”

I wasn’t exactly dressed for a party in my yoga pants and over-sized elementary school sweatshirt. I wasn’t even wearing a bra. Still. “Let me get my shoes,” I said.

The boys next door had strung up lights. Food was laid out on a red tablecloth, and music was playing. Fifteen or so early 30-somethings crowded the small backyard, trying not to step on each others’ toes in the damp grass. Jake and Patrick wore matching Hawaiian shirts; Patrick had their dog, Girlfriend, in his arms. A cheer went up when I came through the gate.

A blonde girl in a red dress handed me her iPhone and scampered off to join the group.

“Dude, did you knock on the neighbor’s door?” somebody muttered.

“I mighta,” said the barefoot beer-drinker.

“Hold on, I’m gonna take a bunch,” I said. “Hopefully one of these will turn out.”

I snapped five or six shots, hoping that everyone’s eyes were open in at least one of them. Girlfriend barked the whole time. The blonde girl came for her phone and squealed at the photos, so I guess I did okay.

“Is there an occasion?” I asked, mostly out of politeness. “Somebody’s birthday?”

“They got married!” someone called out.

In the midst of social chaos, when white supremacists and Nazis speak freely and without repercussion, where passports are being revoked and protections reversed, halfway through the reign of Donald Trump, Jake and Patrick got married. In their backyard on a Sunday night, surrounded by their closest friends, their chosen family. It was a surprise wedding, somebody told me. Everyone thought it was just a barbecue.

“You guys,” I said. “I’m gonna cry.”

“It’s okay,” said the blonde girl. “We all did.”


News: How to remodel

I am pleased and honored to share that my short essay about my mother, How to Remodel, has been published by the lovely folks over at Dead Housekeeping.

About Dead Housekeeping (from their website):

When people die we can still clearly picture the way they did things. We don’t remember our departed in a vacuum, but in motion, in particular. We can still see and sense “how they did it” years after the doer’s deaths.

This is a heartfelt look at loss through the lens of the home.

I highly encourage you to spend some time reading through the essays published on their site. Touching, funny, poignant, and raw – these stories will not disappoint you.

Photo of myself (age 21) and my mother

My mother and I in 1995 or so

A handful of days

I take seven pills every night. Don’t worry, I’m not sick. I’m just trying to stay healthy. A multivitamin. Three glucosamine tablets, for my joints. An aspirin because of that one a-fib incident a couple years ago. Two melatonins to help me sleep. There are too many to take all at once, and so I have to swallow them in three big gulps. Some of these things are huge.

“Horse pills,” I joke, every night.

When I travel I count out tablets into a ziplock bag. Three nights away means twenty-one pills. Seven nights means forty-nine. It looks like a lot of pills. It feels like a lot of time.

Our days are filled with activity: biking, swimming, hiking, a museum visit, even a horseback ride. Good thing for those horse pills, I laugh to myself. We stay up late; we sleep in. We hardly know what time it is. We don’t bother to count the days.

Tonight I weigh the bag in my hand. It’s light: only seven pills left. Seven pills between me and the end of our vacation. Seven pills between me and time’s inexorable pull.

Melatonin won’t help, I can tell. My brain is already tracing the route home, counting loads of laundry, making a grocery list. I reach for my glass of water anyway. The rattle of the pills sounds like the winding of a clock.


Evolution

“Are you a writer?” asked the woman in the park. She’d seen my yellow field bag with the Ray Bradbury quote: You must stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you.

“I like to write,” I equivocated. It was my standard answer. It was true, after all, and got me out of committing to the word. And I had never published a thing, except for poetry and flash fiction on my own blog, which maybe fifteen people ever read.

***

“Who here is a writer?” asked the panel moderator.

I was at Long Beach Comic Con with the rest of the Yeah Write crew. It was the first time most of us had met in person. Rowan and I were sitting in on a panel about queer representation in the writing and publishing world before we went off to our own panel about storytelling in the internet age. The question took me by surprise. We looked at each other for affirmation or validation or moral support, and raised our hands.

***

“Are you a writer?” asked the man sitting next to me on the plane.

I was head down in my computer, wrestling with the final pages of edits on The Jade Dragon, the novel Rowan and I had been working on for years. The man was watching the World Cup quarter-finals streamed to his seat-back TV.

I looked up, a little irritated at the interruption. “Yes,” I said, and went back to work. Only fifteen more pages to go.