I looked out over the front lawn waiting for my neighbor Maria to come back from school. There were hours between my window looking and Maria bringing me my homework, but waiting for things to change was part of the routine and boredom of barely breathing. Looking out over the lawn is about the most exciting thing a 14 year old girl with pneumonia can do.

Maria’s sister was a gangly woman, like a tall and awkward bird with sunken eyes and dark stringy hair. She’d just had a baby, and her body hadn’t quite recovered its shape, which in my young naive mind added to her strangeness. She opened the door of Maria’s house that day and I watched her body move as if throwing itself away from the place, fast and desperate into the grass. Her limbs were bent impossibly and wild slow motion as she fell to her knees, her long strange bird body heaving up and down making noise like a bagpipe marionette.

She was screaming for help, the strange heat of her pointy face shaking snot into long strings that reached down into the grass.

“Please somebody help me! please!” she was saying, ” I just stabbed my stepfather!”

I wanted to run to her; I wanted to hold her weird body there in the grass and reassure her that whatever she’d just done, she was still an excellent mother. I had seen her kiss her baby just the day before. But I was petrified too, wheezing there on the couch, safe behind the glass. I had seen the bad kind of crazy before and was torn between what I knew about her and the blood on her shirt.

Did you ever have to call the police as a child?

“There is a woman screaming in her front yard,” I said. “She looks really scared, she says she stabbed someone… I’m 14, I’m home from school today because I have pneumonia… my mom is at the Shopette getting 7-Up.”

I felt like a tattle tale, I felt like a grown-up, I felt stupid, and hurtful, and scared, and like I had betrayed someone.

The police cars pulled up and escorted Maria’s sister back into the house, she was all collapsed and sideways. It was quiet for a time then an ambulance showed up and paramedics wheeled a body covered in a sheet out the front door. Dead. They didn’t run sirens when they left.

The police asked me questions. My mother, home from her errand, paced behind them. I wheezed out answers, “No, I didn’t see her do it.” Yes, I heard her say she stabbed him.” One officer offered up that Maria’s sister said she did it in self defense and I heard my mom whispering incredulously “she stabbed him in the back seven times.”

“Who has the baby?” I asked. “Maria will be home from softball practice soon to babysit, where is her sister? Who will tell her her father is dead? Who will bring me my homework when Maria moves away?”

Later, my father and his army unit were asked to come clean up the house, this happens in the military, they take care of their own. I watched them go inside and I watched them leave. I still imagine them scrubbing the blood of their friend from the carpeted stairs.


When I was 24 and went in for my yearly exam, I learned I was pregnant. Certainly it was something I wanted, some kind of made with love correction to my previous experience of pregnancy – which I had, in my teenage mind assumed was god punishing me for having sex before marriage, growing nightmare sized in my belly, but planted accidentally by love, god and I having long parted ways…

I wondered which of the two men I was dating might be the father, and if it mattered. I was smarter and dumber then – close enough to the tragedy of my first marriage’s end to know that love and an impending child are not enough, but not smart enough to use condoms with any regularity; I could stand on my own though, I knew at least that much.

On the table, my feet in stirrups, my doctor pushed her hands down to feel the shape of my uterus while I fantasized about what my life would be like, one child far away in New York with his father, and an infant I could love like no other, a love I had yet to experience for a child of mine (not yet anyway, I would discover that unconditional love for him in myself later – an act of grace) – But that day I daydreamed a new and whole life as I felt the scrape of the tiny brush the doctor used to take samples of my insides.

She said “you have some abnormal cell growth on your cervix, it may be an abrasion or a bit of growth that sometimes happens in pregnancy, but we’ll know in a couple days if you need a biopsy.” It was something like that. Normal. I didn’t worry about me, I worried about how to politely tell then men I was dating that I was having a baby and I didn’t know which of them should worry about it.

I didn’t tell Daniel I was pregnant at all, but I told Josh the next day. Josh wanted to get married, He was a writer and a Christian and a swimmer and a sinner and I was temptation there to trap him into behaving, at least to hear him tell it. He was firm in saying he didn’t believe in abortion, evil as it was. Evil as he thought I was he still implored me to move in with his mother. He would do the right thing, regardless of what I wanted.

A few days later I got the call. Abnormal. Come in for a biopsy, no need for an appointment, they’d fit me in. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to worry them until I knew. And then when I knew that parts of my cervix would need to be removed because of cancer, I told Daniel, but just about the cancer.

I wonder now about that fragmentation of trust, of who we choose to tell what… but I didn’t want to tell anyone the whole truth, dramatic as it was – part of it was shame, I’m sure, mitigating the emotional risk for myself. I’ve always been terrible at being the victim of circumstance; I don’t like people feeling sorry for me. It’s like I owe them something for their concern. And I didn’t want anyone to see my whole self, monstrous as I felt I was.

“The cancer will grow as rapidly as the baby does, you have to think of the child you already have, you have to mitigate the risk.” That’s what the nurse said to me when we discuss next steps. I thought the child I already had needed a mother and not me, but I arranged an abortion anyway and shelved all the plans I had about loving anyone.

I tried to read the New York Times up on the clinic’s operating table, and they wouldn’t let me do that, said I had to be present… but too, they wouldn’t let me see the tiny mass of blood and tissue that could have been someone, I wasn’t allowed to be that present, wasn’t allowed to say goodbye.

I didn’t tell Josh about the abortion or the cancer, I said it’d been a false alarm, maybe a miscarriage. I don’t know, I guess I thought it would be more than he could handle or maybe he didn’t deserve the whole truth. There were some tears and some things said that were felt at the time but not true. We broke up on the sidewalk in from of my apartment. Daniel and I stopped seeing one another soon after that as well.

I only had room for so much heartbreak. I didn’t tell anyone else anything, not even my family. Mitigating risk.

A week later I was in another operating room. My legs had been in stirrups so often by then they weren’t even uncomfortable. The surgeon sat there with her laser ready to cauterize the pieces of me that were growing wild and uncertain.

She looked at my chart and said “You’ve had a tough couple of weeks.” She said it so dispassionately I don’t think she really believed it. I was just another of her appointments, another of the irresponsible impoverished women who defined the way of her world, hour after hour. I didn’t cry, wouldn’t dare give her the satisfaction of knowing there was a human being attached to that chart.

The anger in my heart at that doctor, the anger that I’d let myself hope, the sound of a fetal heart monitor in the next room, and the smell of my own burning flesh as the laser did its work. That’s how I remember grief

“I have eaten too many words,” Stephanie said, then proceeded to vomit an entire library across the kitchen floor.  Alan was halfway back from the linen closet before he realized a tea towel wouldn’t un-spill a library.  He dropped the towel where he stood, next to a stack of 700s, and rang a professional.

The librarian answered the phone. He hesitated, then stammered out “Do you, have… you ever tried printing all million pages of Wikipedia?” He couldn’t bring himself to say what just happened, not aloud anyway, that would make it real. The librarian wasn’t amused. She muttered about the importance of expertly verified content and hung-up. If he called back now, told the truth, what were the chances she’d believe a library much like her carefully curated one was vomited up in seconds all over his linoleum floor?
Alan wondered if he could be high? He wondered if there was any way he could go back in time to see if he’d taken drugs that morning? Time travel seemed more real that what had just happened, and that logic itself would have convinced him he had ingested something had he not immediately tripped over several copies of Gulliver’s Travels.
Stephanie was still standing in the kitchen door when Alan hung up the phone, she was wiping the corners of her mouth with her thumbs and looked paler than he’d ever seen her. By the way her body was slowly pitching, he could tell she was getting ready for another wave. There was no way Alan was going to let her vomit in his kitchen again, and fuck it all, if it was another library it wouldn’t fit in there anyway, it’d break out the windows and walls.

The smell of old paper singed Alan’s nostrils with nostalgia, it was overwhelming. His eyes stung and watered; thoughts of hiding his pockmarked teenage face in outdated computing books, trying his best to be invisible.  His emotions couldn’t take it, he had to get out of that kitchen fast, and he had to get Stephanie out of that kitchen before she completely destroyed it.
“Has this ever happened before?” he asked her as he forcefully grabbed her arms and tried to spin her out the kitchen’s back door. They stumbled and kicked at volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica as they went. “I didn’t even know they still published” Alan said, half amused.

Stephanie stepped out of the door and into the sunlight. She opened her mouth to answer but the language that came out was French and Portuguese and Spanish translations of Kafka, burying the begonias! Her knees bucked and she fell forward, scattering the stack of Kafka translations haphazardly into newly planted rows of string beans and squash. She began to cry big drops of black ink. They fell on the brick patio and beaded into small black pearls.

Alan watched the tears sink into the porous rock, leaving grey ghosts on the brick he and his father had laid the year previous. Stephanie’s hands were over her mouth as she tried to stop crying, her face was a red blotchy mess covered in greying stripes of inky tears. Alan, for the first time since Stephanie stepped into his kitchen, and maybe for the first time ever, felt sorry for Stephanie and patted her shuttering back. “I liked you better when you devoured math,” he joked, “At least it came back-up in tiny exponents.”


Love sits in folding chairs, packed trains, and idle thoughts waiting for a break in conversation

Love sneaks a poem into your pocket that is destined to become a hard pearl of dryer lint;

Love undercooks your steak and demands your praises.

Everything bleeds out;

Love paces, wandering the cracks in the hardwood floor questioning the integrity of its foundation;

Love tears a hole in your screen letting moths and birds and debris in.

Love refused to filter.

Everything bleeds in;

Love keeps you awake at night with worry. Love doesn’t care what you expect. Love waits in the dark, a hard pearl of dryer lint;

Love scribbles in your margins.

Love crosses out your keywords.

Love sends you to the printer and lets the best part fall past the bleed;

Love leaves you no options. Love doesn’t come with insurance. Love doesn’t carry a first aid kit;

Love waits for you in paper cups and paper cuts;

Love sits in the library and reads you, skipping all the dialog.