Category Archives: Essays

How to have a Sunday

It starts with sleeping late, only not too late, or you’ll miss out. Wait until you hear tires crunching on the driveway’s crackled pavement to hop in the shower. Be quick; the hot water only lasts so long, and your father will be back any minute now.

Go into the kitchen. By now your father is waiting there with the Sunday paper, a box of Entenmann’s donuts, and real coffee in a paper cup. He had to go all the way to Trumbull to get it, a ten-minute drive. The donuts are a treat, but not a surprise. You like plain and powdered; your brother likes cinnamon. With four of each, everyone gets what they want. You can even have two.

Make yourself a cup of coffee: two tablespoons of Taster’s Choice, a spoonful of sugar, and blend with milk until the color matches your skin. Someday you’ll learn what real coffee is; for now, just feel grown-up.

Snag the comics and the Parade magazine, quick, before your brother finishes his donuts. He can start with the sports page instead. You don’t know what your Dad reads, so hand him the rest of the paper: the news, the classifieds, the obituaries, and all those circulars. He’ll sort through them, recycle the stuff no-one wants. He’ll save the coupons for your mother.

If it’s cold, spread the paper out on the living room carpet. Lie on your belly, kick your feet up. Try not to touch the paper; you hate the feel of newsprint on your hands. But if it’s warm and the morning is bright, take the paper out to table on the back deck. That’s the best way.

Break your powdered donut in half and in half again. Take small bites, tapping the excess sugar onto your plate. Repeat with the plain donut, using the broken ends to blot up the white powder, and when the donuts are gone, lick your finger and use that instead. Leave no crumb behind.

Sip your grown-up coffee; listen to the birds and the wind in the trees. Let the sun dry your hair. Hand the comics to your father when you’re done reading.


Monsters and what they teach us

When I was nine I was afraid of ghosts. Monsters. E.T. I slept with my hands tucked firmly inside the edges of my mattress and with my closet door shut. I was afraid of the shadows cast by moonlight on my closet door: Mother Mary come to judge me in the night. Continue reading

Pride goeth

Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that causes a crash. In this case, it was a bug. It hit me in the eye, I braked – hard – with one hand, and flew ass-over-teakettle into the street.

“I’m fine,” I told the man who helped me up. My knee was scraped raw, my helmet cracked. I could feel my elbow swelling as I heaved the bike back up. (Later, I would need an MRI.)

“I’m fine,” I said when I wheeled into work, because of course I went to work. A crash doesn’t mean I can slow down. I have to be fine.


Lace

We got the kids’ school pictures yesterday. We send them to the grandparents every year for Christmas: four different addresses. Our mothers, our fathers. My wife shook the pictures out of the envelope, showed them to me: N’s goofy grin, Z’s untamable hair. Three sets of photos. Three sets, not four.

My mother’s death did not leave a gaping hole in our lives. She wasn’t woven into the fabric of my everyday. Instead, my mother’s absence is a series of tiny voids: eyelet lace. One less person to tag on the photo of the kids’ Halloween costumes. One less phone call on Thanksgiving. I decorated our house this weekend with the garlands and lights and red velvet bows that she brought me for the first Christmas after N was born. I snapped a picture on my phone, and didn’t know who to send it to.


How to dust

First take off your shoes. The carpet is white; it shows every footprint, every pass of the vacuum cleaner. This is why kids are not allowed in here. This is why we do not use this room.

Take a dust-rag – one of Dad’s old undershirts – and spray it with lemon Pledge. Wrinkle your nose at the smell. Survey the landscape: curios collected from places she has been or always wanted to visit. The jade Buddha. The brass cricket cage. The black lacquer bowl. The Russian spoons.

Lift them one by one, starting with the Buddha. Weigh it in your hand. Memorize the mark it leaves behind on the coffee table, its footprint in the dust. Fix it in your mind, this spot. Remember the shape, the angle. Try not to think of the dust, of what it’s made of. (Hair follicles. Skin cells. Cigarette ash. Mites.) Wipe it away, carefully, drawing the rag around the edges of the empty places. Set down the jade Buddha (the brass cricket cage, the black lacquer bowl, the Russian spoon) precisely where it had been, as if it had never been moved. The arrangement is important.

Move to the piano, black lacquer like the bowl, the spoons, the arms of the Oriental-style chairs and the screen with the jade inlays. Black and white, this room, except where the dust has settled. Wipe down the three wooden monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) and the dust at their feet and place them – again – where they have always been, sitting on their haunches and minding their own business, not judging.

Thirty minutes is all it takes. Thirty minutes to make it perfect. Toss the rag in the laundry and try not to think of the dust, how even now, it is gathering on every surface.