When my heart is aching, every song is a love song.
Earthy whiffs of weed drifted across the transit stop, and while he’d pledged to take a break from smoking, it didn’t seem a violation to breathe deeply until his bus arrived.
An unfamiliar melody streams from the speaker and wraps itself around my heart, squeezing until I swoon, and I’m grateful for the reminder that I can still be swayed by the unexpected, that joy sometimes arrives in a hurry.
I talk a lot when I’m drinking, but that doesn’t mean it’s the alcohol talking. The liquor doesn’t make stuff up, it just sneaks it past the censors.
You’re tied into so many of my memories that I can’t untangle the knots.
Nearly every day at dusk, John would settle into a chair in his backyard and smoke a cigar, start to finish, as he watched the world darken around him. No magazine, no device, just the day slowly fading to black.
Her room was on the dark side of the house, always cool, cold cotton sheets that we hurried to warm. Today a spring breeze blew past me and it felt like I was walking into that room again. I wondered what I would say.
My 7 y.o. has no compunction telling me, in 7 y.o. vernacular, to piss off, yet she’s unwilling to Sharpie a smile on the blank white bicyclist painted on the asphalt. I’m glad to see I’m not batting .000 in parenting.
Our eyes meet as she approaches the gate and sits much closer than all the empty seats require. I imagine we’re in a rom-com, a string of hijinks to follow before we fall in love on the flight, but she quickly puts on her headphones and the movie abruptly ends.
The way the dog snores, sprawled like a spill with his head lolled on the softest pillow on the bed, makes me doubt he’ll ever be able to survive in the wild.
The thing I can’t get over is how you got over me. I was sure we shared something special, but it seems I had it all to myself.
Seeing them dismantling the disability ramp at the house down the street, hoping there was a miracle.
If I was out late, Winnie would wait on the floor, a black lab laying in blacker shadows. For weeks after she died, my reflex was to avoid stepping on her, each time a cold reminder that I never would again.
“I’m getting into the car right now,” she said as she walked into the clothing store. Tales of traffic will likely be her next lie.
When I worked at the gas station, people who asked for directions often felt compelled to explain how they got lost. It seemed to make them feel better, but it never made them seem smarter.
When I worked at the gas station, people who asked for directions often felt compelled to explain how they got lost. It seemed to make them feel better, but it never made them seem smarter.
He says “what?” to her first question and she is instantly annoyed, repeating herself in clipped staccato, each word snapping like a cap gun, and I think of how long their days must seem.
When mom refers to her valuables, she isn’t talking about her copper-bottom popcorn pan or the old oval diner plates, but that’s what I think of. I keep my memories in those things.
I cling to things, refusing to let go, as if they’re not already gone.
It wasn’t the pajamas that made me feel like a slouch on my late-night grocery runs, but the slippers, in case you’re wondering about the guy in the store wearing plaid flannel pants and wingtips.
Does the caterpillar know what it’s about to become? Does the butterfly remember when it was bound to a branch?
By the time he reached his 50’s, time was flying past him so quickly he was surprised he couldn’t feel a breeze.
Vapor trails wrapping the sky in white ribbons like big blue gift.
As a kid, he’d imagined what it would feel like to be invisible, to stand next to someone without them even noticing. Later in life, he acquired that very power, though only with certain people.
“Why won’t you hold my hand?” she said to the boy on the bus, as if there might be a reassuring answer to the question.
I call it lovely names like hope and optimism, but there are moments when I wonder if it’s just a fear of moving on.
You are a mischievous distraction, rooting through my memories asking, “Remember this? Wasn’t that fun? What about this one? Remember my smile?” Yes. I remember.
Sometimes the line between what I remember and what I imagined only loosely fits the definition of a line.
What happens to all the love that misses its mark, the unspoken and unrequited emotions that rush out into the world with nowhere to land?
The woman on the curb sobbed as the shrouded body was wheeled from the shelter. The happened-upon moment of peak-level human grief caught me off guard. A stranger who seemed to notice my surprise shook his head. “He ain’t why she’s crying.”
I lost a friend last year, and I lose him again every time I recall a story that only he would remember. He was an external memory bank I can no longer access. The holes in the story will never be filled.
It’s like remembering a friend I’d forgotten and realizing how much I’ve missed them, except the person I’m remembering is me.
The taste of warm gatorade conjures the days when we kept a bottle bedside and drank deep as we caught our breath. I can’t remember when we stopped replacing that bottle.
The deli clerk asked me to repeat the amount — a quarter pound — three times, then smiled. “I heard you fine each time, I just like how you say it. Quartah,” she said, mimicking my Maine accent. I could hear repeating it as she sliced the meat.
Considering my extensive experience, it’s confounding that I still can’t sneak treats from the cookie tin without the kids hearing.
He told himself he would confine her to certain corners of his mind, but once inside, she went wherever she pleased.
Sadness is stealthy. It sneaks in on the coattails of a smile and whispers lies it knows I will believe.
Through seven blocks of snarled traffic, she leaned heavily on her horn to three separate vehicles, apparently hoping her generous lessons would inspire us all to be better drivers.
I call it procrastination because it’s a gentle word that sounds like a temporary condition. Neglect is too judgmental, even if it is more accurate.
Once upon a time, we were so close that nothing could come between us. But we’ve drifted apart, and now anything can.
The rustle of leaves underfoot, kicking up memories.
“If you take that job,” she says, “I’ll never see you.” He silently takes a sip of his coffee, then another. She waves to the waitress to bring the check.
The holiday decorations sit right where we left them, in the stack of crates we keep meaning to put back into storage, a growing monument to how quickly a year passes these days.
We talked in my dream, sat close and laughed. I woke with the urge to call her, to continue the conversation, but I doubt she’ll remember where we left off.
She’s quietly reading a novel aloud to her husband on the bus. Is it the story he’s enjoying, or just the sound of her voice? Or is he listening at all?
The bitterness of the coffee seemed to seep into his psyche, an uncertain mood turning solidly sour. He imagined those mugs emblazoned with “not until I’ve had my coffee” and thought, maybe not after, either.
He swaggered in wearing a slather of Axe body spray like a suit of armor, oblivious that the women in the coffee shop window had just wagered on the outcome of his comical struggle to parallel park.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, October 2018)
Our brief exchange at the campground sink keeps echoing in my head. How did you cast a spell in so few sentences?
You left little bits of yourself all over this city, and now I can’t go anywhere without feeling you there. Will all these spots ever be washed clean?
Fatigued by the heat, a stretch uncommon in both intensity and duration. When rain finally came, I stepped outside and stood in it, for the mere reason that I could.
She loves him like a once-favorite restaurant that she no longer visits, fondly recalled but a flavor she lost her taste for.
Cool event, cool people, and all I feel is out of place. I sneak out and catch the first bus to find my favorite driver behind the wheel. We talk and laugh the whole way home. So grateful that wherever I go, even when I feel awkward and odd, my people are out there.
As the waitress gracefully pivots between three talkative tables, each with a different idea of what “funny” is, it’s clear that 15% is insufficient compensation for her skills.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, August 2018)
Aware their neighbors were well within earshot, the couple moved their escalating argument indoors, though with so many windows raised high for summer, the bitter broadcast streamed on.
The pizza guy gladly agreed to come in and smoke a joint. In short order, the television seduced the entire room, and it was 25 minutes before the host said, “Dude, I’m not your boss, but should you be delivering pizzas?” The driver’s dismay became legend in that home.
Sometimes I take a deep breath and the sensation in my chest feels so foreign that I wonder if I’ve been breathing at all.
Based on the disheveled man flamboyantly conducting an imaginary symphony on 4th Avenue, it seems the effort to disperse the vagrants by piping classical music onto the sidewalks has failed.
I find myself slipping into the nostalgia of you, imagining what might have been, a fiction that’s as old as we are.
I awaken in a blur, a fog of dreams on the window that I must wipe away to see the day. But first, two round eyes and an arcing smile. That’s enough for now.
He used his spoon to plunge the vivid little rings into the milk, a rainbow in a bowl, then raised a scoop to his mouth. They tasted like memories.
There are many different kinds of love. Is it greedy to want to feel them all?
He arrived just in time to catch the train, but stood on the platform as the doors closed and it pulled away. “Sorry,” he said into his phone, “I missed the train.”
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, May 2018)
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #68, Fall 2018)
Winter refuses to budge, but this morning, the scent of freshly mown lawns mixed with the usual smoke from wood stoves offers a whiff of hope.
My dad carved a wooden tulip, painted it red, and planted it in the prized bed of yellow tulips in the center of town. His delight in such simple mischief is just one of the reasons I miss him.
It defies physics: we can be in the same house, the same room, the same bed, yet we’re still so far away.
I keep learning the same lessons over and over. Though maybe “learning” isn’t the right word.
After she’d caught her breath, I complimented my six year old on how much she enjoys laughing. “Yeah. It’s one of my passions.”
Emerging from the Tiffany store, she’s wearing the dreamy smile of a bride-to-be, while he looks like he’s just seen a ghost.
He’s clearly proud to be with her, a smile hijacking his lips every time he tries to play it cool. His glee is so evident, I’m convinced that the moment she touches him, he will explode.
The subwoofers seemed like overkill for an amateur softball game, but the music transformed the park, the ordinary morning gaining a cinematic gravitas, fly balls falling on the beat.
She’s waiting at the corner, glancing expectantly in each direction, and there’s something in her smile that makes me suddenly sad she isn’t waiting for me.
A wave of warm weather, and all along the avenue, snowmen slouch, their gangly arms giving in to gravity.
“And in here,” 5 y.o. says, pointing to a drawer while showing her new stuffed animal around the room, “is where I keep my secrets.”
It keeps pressing — this world, this venom, this grief, this moment — until finally, it breaks me. From the crack, a few words trickle out. I scramble to catch them in a paper cup.
Insight into my life: In a restaurant, smelled something burning, immediately assumed it was something I did.
Of all the mistakes I’m likely making, being too hopeful is one I’ll be able to live with.
He understood that he couldn’t be her everything, but he wished he could be her something.
The algorithm doesn’t know he chose that song, the one that sounds so much like her, on the rare night he could bear to listen. Now it slips it into random playlists like it’s doing him a favor, which it’s not.
As he lifted his face to the drizzle, a thousand tiny droplets pelting his face, he smiled. “It feels like stars.”
I expected ten years would have extinguished the spark, but every word she says is a breath bringing it back to life.
From four stories up, I watch lines of cars slither slowly by, the daily parade, a rainbow of grays, brake lights like stars.
I wish we could choose who we allow to break our hearts. Or at least, when they had to stop.
I’m nostalgic for certain flavors, but they rarely deliver the satisfaction I remember. So much has changed since I made those memories. Mostly, me.
Forbidden to descend into the cat’s dominion, the dog stands at the top of the stairs, listening to the basement like a radio.
The one string of colored bulbs meanders across the front shrubs. A defiance of the neighborhood’s meticulous displays? Or was the single strand deemed sufficient for crossing “Lights” off their holiday To Do list?
It was just register-line small talk, yet it’s been floating through my head like a melody, a loop of her languid drawl coloring the time the harried cashier had afforded us.
We silently step around the broken thing, hoping it magically mends itself; hoping our neglect will one day brush off like a layer of dust; hoping all this hope starts working soon.
He filled the vacant space she’d left in his life with such a dense clutter of memories that he wondered if she’d taken a single one with her when she left.
That song came on, rushing into my head with you right behind it. Three minutes later, the song was gone…but you’re still here.
They’re playing the “no, I love YOU more” game, which is fun until it eventually becomes clear to both players who the winner is.
My dog dwells in perpetual present-tense, every zippered coat or crackling chip bag a signal of potential joy. What a way to live.
“Half a cup,” I say. She pours with mathematical accuracy, and I quickly regret bringing fractions into a discussion about coffee.
He’d never dated a churchgoer, not because he didn’t believe in God, but because his Sunday morning devotion was to breakfast.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, November 2017)
I miss her, even when I’m with her. Maybe even more when I’m with her, because that’s when I’m reminded of exactly what I miss.
Floating atop the sea of day-glo backpacks, the kindergarten parents’ t-shirts proudly declare allegiance to aging alt-rock idols.
Hours of urgent scrubbing in hope of duping our guests into believing we don’t let the place go until company forces us to clean.
The bent and broken roses under the bus seat might seem sad if the smiling woman wasn’t salvaging the good bits to make a bouquet.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #66, Spring 2018)
My kindergartner told me about the lock-down drill at her school, and while I’m glad they’re planning, I feel more sad than safe.
Sadness sits on the periphery, a vulture biding its time. Even as I revel in happy moments, it will hiss, reminding me it’s close.
The raccoon who stalks our ripe tomatoes doesn’t seem to like tomatoes, yet he takes a bite out of each one. Such optimism.
He lamented the longing he couldn’t satisfy, like craving a certain meal from a diner that’s closed. It wasn’t enough just to eat.
When the Collie on the corner sounds the alarm, a wave of barking breaks through open windows, drowning the silence of the street.
The cold night floods through open windows, sprawled bare legs searching for covers that the hot evening promised we’d never need.
It’s a fleeting delight, the brief euphoria conjured by a forgotten flavor when savored anew, but delights were in scarce supply.
I miss mailing letters, but worry the envelopes carry a burden. Will they have time to pen a reply? Will they even have stamps?
Hope is a deceptive translator. It relays the bits that fit the tale it wants to tell, pretends the rest isn’t part of the story.
It’s past midnight as the passengers gather at the baggage carousel, exhausted contestants in a slow-motion lottery.
He wished life was like a movie, and he was one shared-glance-with-a-stranger away from escaping the purgatory of his routines.
The cook opines on politics as she preps the kitchen. Bartender nods, says nothing, a choir of one who’s heard this sermon before.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #65, Autumn 2017)
That song comes on, shaking loose a hundred memories of you, and I wonder how many times I’ll have to clean up this same mess.
She was a visual alchemist, making even gas station hats or give-away sunglasses look cool. Alas, the same was never true for me.
I compliment the crow for its bold bit of derring-do to evade the looming Dodge, then wonder if the crow will know that word.
While extolling producer J Dilla, my daughter thought my Maine accent was getting in the way. “Jay Diller? Is it country music?”
On drives, my dad would share tiny memories from his life. A hundred little yarns, once knitted together, became one story: his.
Giving something up is different than being deprived of it. I can decide to live without, but I can’t decide to stop missing it.
We open the porch doors to let the thunder in, listening like it’s an old friend regaling us. The rain applauds at every pause.
He inhaled and waited for the soft waves of euphoria to wash away the lingering residue of the day.
My cousin’s code for getting stoned was “I’m going for a walk.” His aunts wondered why, with so many walks, he never lost weight.
For years, she was a bus-crush, an arm’s-length daydream. When we finally talked, I quickly realized how much of her I’d made up.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, July 2017)
He suspected she’d ceased cataloging his kindness some time ago, but her list of his shortcomings was likely damp with fresh ink.
While these dark days can lay heavy on our hearts, I am happy to report that a dog shitting at a picnic is still comedy gold.
Scolded by the grocery store clerk for not using the tongs, her voice still echoing hours later.
Despite the forecast, Spring still surprised us. The neighborhood hastily assembles a symphony of lawn mowers to hail its arrival.
The glue to mend a broken heart usually comes from someone new. Without them, there’s just us, probing the cracks, remembering.
As a toddler, my daughter didn’t look for my hand to hold, just raised hers up for me to find. Years later, I still watch for it.
One thought alone is a tiny thing, a drop of rain, but together, they’re a deluge. I lie in the darkness trying not to drown.
Woke three days in a row humming obscure 80s songs. Where’s my brain going at night? What’s missing that I’m time-traveling to find?
She ran hot, kicking the covers off each night, leaving me freezing. Now, I can tug the blankets to my chin, but I never get warm.
A woman delights in tiny flowers on our lawn: “I’m from Hawaii. Our blooms are all ostentatious.” I see my weeds differently now.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #64, Summer 2017)
The sign kindly assured me, “You Are Enough.” How disappointing to catch myself cobbling examples to make a case otherwise.
His face, a mosaic of tiny lines, had the texture of a riverbed that hadn’t seen water in years. The whiskey wasn’t helping.
Their holiday light competition has shifted from magnitude to longevity, as it’s now April and both homes still glow festively.
He’s wedged into his fuel-efficient car like he’s travelling coach, no longer enjoying the satisfying feeling of saving the earth.
Two yards of dirt, dumped on their lawn just prior to the protracted divorce, now serve as a grassy memorial to how plans change.
I shook off a tenacious sadness, savored the reprieve, but then settled back into my usual routines. It easily found me again.
This coffee mug looks much too small to hold so many memories.
If only I could catch and catalog each thought as they pour through my head like a river through a broken dam. Then I could sleep.
After a prolonged silence in my life, she spoke to me in a dream. I’m left to wonder: Is what she said what she’d actually say?
Fog creeps across the city like a thief, slipping steeples and skyscrapers under its cloak.
The whiteboard was hung to track progress on his ambitions, but the dust on the markers revealed its inefficacy – or his own.
Frazzled nanny’s perpetual whisper-rant stops abruptly. She retreats, silently escaping into her phone. The kids don’t notice.
He explains a water pump. I don’t get it. He explains again, using entirely different words. Mechanic’s hands, teacher’s soul.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #63, Spring 2017)
Sometimes a memory sneaks in unseen and suddenly it’s right beside me, like it had never gone away. Which, apparently, it hadn’t.
Tiny raindrops turn his phone screen into a digital Lite Brite, a Pollack painting taking shape before his eyes. He lets it ring.
I’d had a crush on her years before, but as we caught up in the frozen food aisle, nothing in our conversation reminded me of why.
The preschool didn’t refer to the students’ afternoon performance as a “talent show,” for reasons that were quickly evident.
Courtesy runs deep in our house, often causing the last cookie to languish as we all leave it for someone else. But not this one.
He realized, again, that it doesn’t matter how much you love someone. You may value the currency, but it’s worthless some places.
He was pleased to notice a moment of happiness, and disappointed that a twinge of guilt ran through him like a chill right after.
As she stands in the frigid wind, frozen breath blending with cigarette smoke, I momentarily mistake her addiction for dedication.
Found a piece of magnetic poetry inexplicably stranded in a sink full of dirty dishes: Light. I’ve held it in my head ever since.
4 y.o. holds empty coffee can to the bulb, snaps on the lid, expecting to take a bit of light to another room. I cross my fingers.
The clove-flavored candy instantly transported him to his youth, to grandma’s house, to yet another scolding for eating her candy.
He woke elated, but the feeling faded as he realized he’d been dreaming. He closed his eyes again, hoping to find his way back.
He was a re-run of his father, down to the vaguely relevant bromides and quips lifted from Reader’s Digest’s Quotable Quotes.
He bragged that he was madly in love with two amazing women. I asked if he’d have to choose. “Nah. Neither of them love me back.”
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, February 2017)
Christmas extends deep into January as a frigid spell discourages every neighbor from stripping their yards of holiday lights.
The priest suggests lighting a prayer candle in the garden, as if praying in the fluorescent waiting room is somehow insufficient.
The lights of a thousand houses glow like embers under the black night, the day’s fire fading as the city slips off to sleep.
Discussing leading men, my mother had a girlish glow when she named “Gregory Peck,” adding a dreamy “Mmmmm” as she sliced the pie.
I remember her jean jacket, the way she smelled like winter, the song she insisted I hear. And that’s enough.
The phone rings, and the ripple of it rattles my whole world. If only I could have stopped the news by not answering the call.
Cat stares too long at the wooden rafters of my office. I can’t see what he’s seeing, so the morning is ruined by my imagination.
He tugs the zipper of his daughter’s overcoat all the way to the top, hoping if it’s snug enough, it will protect her from everything.
A whiff of cigarettes wafts from her coat, reminds me of someone else’s scent, someone else’s smile, someone I wish was beside me.
I once had a lovely talk with a woman on this train. Today I apologized for not recalling her name. “I don’t remember yours either, Bill.”
Imagining my life as if it’s a car, marveling at the acceleration but yearning to snatch one clear visual from the passing blur.
Morning sun seems intent on showing up last night’s moon, painting the whole city gold, reminding me how I take it for granted.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, December 2016)
My sole superpower: I can suspend my grief or anxiety for the full duration of a slice of peanut butter toast and a cup of coffee.
He liked to think his elderly aunt didn’t just “like” every family post on Facebook, but genuinely enjoyed that Replacements song.
Singing along with any song might’ve revealed that he’s tone-deaf, but “Roxanne” removes any doubt for the rest of us on the bus.
He stood alone at the networking event, exaggerating his interest in the free appetizers, dreading some stranger’s eager hello.
Guests now departed, we flop onto the couch, eager to savor the silence, but find the quiet cluttered with their echoes.
We’re out of practice for these brisk October mornings, the furnace lurching to life while autumn waltzes in through open windows.
A tiny melodic breach—just two notes of a schmaltzy Aerosmith ballad heard as the radio scans—and I’m stuck humming it all day.
She deftly executed every task—typing, 10-key, calls—with a lit cigarette pinched in her fingers, the desk dusted with fine ash.
I sort my thoughts while washing dishes. Today, as the last glass was done, only the drying rack had a satisfying sense of order.
This bird with the goofy squawk seems to know it, hesitant to speak up, timid as a teenager awkwardly adjusting to his new voice.
Morrissey moans over a wicked Marr riff as my daughter plays with crayons. I watch, wondering if the melancholy is seeping in.
With siblings stretched across four time zones, even urgent news requires a quick calculation on the fingers before making a call.
I silently savor my four-year-old calling those fragrant, black-and-white animals, “stunks”. Sadly, she’ll know better soon.
Empty pint of Fireball lies on the curb with a paper cup stuffed with snuffed cigarettes. Fuel for the fire, or salve for a burn?
As she loudly tears into him for having six kids by three moms, I glance at the boy in her stroller, wondering which number he is.
That song I love is leaking from the earbuds of the guy next to me, barely audible. I close my eyes, try to fill in the blanks.
Mom bellowing “keep it down!” only adds to the din of her children’s noise competition, a contest the rest of us are losing.
This accordion player’s lilting minor-key melody transforms the train into a bittersweet French film. Characters disappear. Train rolls on.
Too long in the city when the river rushing a quarter mile from our camp site calls to mind traffic racing home on a wet highway.
The weight of the paper of the letters he’d written her in his head would have been significant, though no heavier than the words.
He liked the smile lines spreading like a dry river delta around his eyes. Having a face wrecked by happiness felt like a victory.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, August 2016 and Creative Nonfiction Magazine #61, Fall 2016)
Tiny teen’s avatar is stone-faced and serious, his gangling frame like rickety scaffolding beneath his NHL replica jersey.
I called my dad’s jumpshot lucky. “I intended to do it, and I did it. Where’s the luck?” 40 years later, still irrefutable.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #62, Winter 2017)
The moaning swell of the siren trapped in traffic gives the bucket-drummer’s beat an impromptu melody. Elsewhere, something burns.
Fireplug mutt sprints full-speed at the park, jelly slow, radiant with delight, no sign that the speed of any other dog matters.
Handwritten “Please Come In!” taped between faded photos of colorless food is heartbreakingly earnest. Sadly, the place is empty.
Sometimes everything is so lovely it glows; other times, the same things lack any luster. Disappointing that the difference is me.
They’re still Gettin’ the Led Out on the radio. My car becomes a time machine to old friends, cheap turntables, seedy weed.
Sadness seeps in like the tide, imperceptible yet unrelenting. I feel it rise, dreading the disquiet that’ll wash ashore with it.
He pulls up, honks the horn…again…again…again, waiting for the one person on the block who isn’t eager to send him off.
I fell for the illusion of shade, expecting a cool oasis, but the brick bench had been in sun all day. The air above it shivered.
The man at the bus stop is an impressive whistler, in pitch and volume. The faces of the tired commuters are giving mixed reviews.
The young man’s heartbreak shone as the lovely woman chose another row on the bus. I took the seat next to him, sealing his fate.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, June 2016)
The giddiness we felt when an owl arrived on our block didn’t last. By day six, incessant hooting had us joking about owl recipes.
Angry, anguished yelling echoes down the street. I lay in the darkness, trying to match each voice to a neighbor, hoping I can’t.
He grins over his drink, mistaking her seething silence for speechlessness. He thinks he’s won. She explodes with clarification.
His long, gangly legs extend and retract like some complex cause-and-effect mechanism, a grasshopper disguised in a business suit.
She ticks off a list of ways she’s made the man’s life better. He nods at each item, not gratefully but willing to cede the point.
He makes a show of talking sweetly to the boy when he sees me, a stark contrast to the impatient scolding I heard as I approached.
As the dog bolts after the tennis ball, tongue hanging, tail wagging, I wonder, what in my own life do I chase like that?
She snuck into his head by stowing away on a whiff of cigarette smoke and warm whiskey.
We shared a sprint for the closing train door. Catching our breath inside, we smiled, like friends, not strangers. Then sat alone.
If invited guests could hear the recurring friction of this pair’s wedding planning, they’d hold off on booking their flights.
Furnace roaring, trash truck slamming bins, but it still feels like silence. No people, no television. That’s the difference.
She examines her face in the beer cooler door, the store’s harsh fluorescent glare coldly showing what her car mirror kept secret.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, April 2016)
As a kid, I envied people on TV who trained into the city, worked in skyscrapers. Now, I do that. Did I make this dream come true?
Every night I wash my teen’s favorite mug; every day she plucks it from the dish rack, never marveling at the magic of it all.
The sisters fought over mother’s jewelry, a year of stony silence until one suddenly died. How heavy those gems must feel now.
She points at the drained bloody mary and nods urgently to the waiter as the boy explains, again, the RED one is the Triceratops.
Adorably close, each with an earbud of the same headphones, I imagine the breakup beginning, “No, we’re fine, I just miss stereo.”
Each day chipped away tiny bits of him, so each night he’d plaster the gaps with wine or weed, hoping the repairs wouldn’t show.
He wanted a candid avatar so people would see him as refreshingly genuine in an era of online artifice. Took 22 selfies to get it.
He was well into the deep water when he realized the thing he’d been clinging to to keep him afloat was actually an anchor.
They’ve seemed bare for months, but today, the trees look snipped and brushed, like a toddler’s hair as he exits the barbershop.
She’s reveling in the attention that comes with being the hottest woman in the bar, even if it is a dive bar, and it’s 2:30pm.
His daily wardrobe had always been simple, free of flamboyance or boldness of taste. Thus the tumult around the orange necktie.
As he scans the airport for people who aren’t there, I want to say, “They couldn’t make it. They’re sorry. They’ll explain later.”
Another pass through the waiting area confirms that the people he expected to meet at the gate have not come. He keeps looking.
White puffs of breath punctuate the hushed conversation at the bus stop, fervent curses occasionally escaping in the tiny clouds.
I see him in the window, a doughy man standing in the glow of the refrigerator bulb, alley-pulling a jug of milk. Or is that a reflection?
Sliding into the tub, tiny waves splashing against the island of flesh formed by his belly, he lamented his evolving topography.
He was very good about admitting he’d been wrong, partly due to his generous spirit but mostly because he’d had a lot of practice.
Does Rosetta Stone have an Emoji course? Not speaking the language, I see strings of things rushing by and all I can do is smile.
Sadly, the glow of the LED digits on the alarm clock proved insufficient for illuminating a solution to the puzzle in his head.
Randomly recalled a moment 30 years ago when my “funny” sarcastic quip made a friend tear up. I wish I could recall my apology.
Glad when sadness is eased by finding the precise words to define it, thoughts so clear the emotions leave me to live on the page.
He studied a sun-bleached wishbone on the windowsill, its elegant symmetry and delicate flare. Was it worth one wish to break it?
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, February 2016)
The river’s smooth as concrete and gray as the day above it. No sun to make everything lovely, but everything being lovely anyway.
Had he not made clear how his heart was breaking? Must he use those very words? In all the years, had she never learned his code?
As he sips his cocktail, his daughter runs over with a swizzle stick. “Look, a magic wand!”
He smiles. “More than you know, hon.”
The curses sprinkled throughout her recap of the weather forecast were a clear barometer of a continuing winter of discontent.
He closed his eyes, confident in the alarm clock’s recent success, oblivious to the undertow dragging him deeper into the covers.
Both his tweet and Facebook post indicated that he was glad to be enjoying the moment.
He blamed an ongoing apparel-industry conspiracy to cut fabric costs by reducing the size of a Large t-shirt. Cake was irrelevant.
The song plays in broken fragments in his head: bridge, half a verse, three choruses, little bits of melody popped like Pez candy.
Tween girls hurriedly cast spells at each other but their magic doesn’t take. I expect soon it will, at least with teen boys.
Public square, Christmas tree toppled. Likely to be deemed a war crime, but I suspect same people who did it 40 years ago: jerks.
Just outside the polyester snowscape of the North Pole, Santa chats with the cell phone kiosk clerk while an elf scrolls Facebook.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, January 2016)
High-style grandma, radiant in her circa-’72 head scarf, cat-eye frames, tweed overcoat. The stuff resale shop dreams are made of.
I fear he’ll embarrass himself with his over-the-top, rom-com-style clowning, but I notice she’s smiling. Genuinely. Warmly. Huh.
He eyed them–ball caps, hoodies, swagger–but couldn’t guess their age, or even narrow it to a six-year span. Settled on “young”.
He recalled fumbling with the leather punch, wax thread joining crooked rows of holes, yet 38 years later the wallet holds strong.
Clogged storm drain spawns a lake. Two drenched men on the shore, the bus like a boat on a mooring. Driver shrugs. First splash.
He’s bundled against the cold rain with layers of nylon and the grin of a toddler swaddled in a snow suit, impervious to harm.
Missed my high school reunion. Photos seem to indicate that many others missed it, too, their parents attending in their stead.
She imagines her silence to be a lull, a respite, even a kindness, and not a vacant space to be filled with doubt. Here we differ.
Typed “hurricane”, phone suggests “Katrina” as the next word. Ten years later, a strange underscore to one storm’s impact.
Darkness, silent except the snow squeaking under my boots, the muted scrape of the shovel on blacktop. Another scoop. Another.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, December 2015)
Had she barged back in suddenly, filling my head with her scent and textures, or had she been living there quietly all this time?
Poking a cabbage leaf in her Pad Thai, toddler asks, “What’s this?”
“It’s delicious,” I say.
She shakes her head. “I don’t like delicious.”
He’s bent into the bus seat like one of those old folding yardsticks, knees jutting at strange angles, a praying mantis in khakis.
Thick fog gives the block an air of mystery, impressive in a place where yard work is a chore made tolerable only by gossip.
“You called it a Trans Am, but it was actually a Firebird.” She said nothing, but I’m sure she appreciated his clarification.
Tugging harder to button the waist of his pants for a third day in a row, he wondered if his wife had changed laundry detergents.
Scattered across the cobblestone alley, a handful of smokers stand silently in their spots like chess pieces waiting to be played.
The bold ringleader claimed the role when they were young, before the tall girl became beautiful. It’s starting to cause friction.
“Ooooo, I’m tellin’!” The kid wasn’t talking to me, but an ancient wave of dread swelled up with flotsam of my past infractions.
She needs to know the word is butterfly, but I’ll be sad when my daughter stops calling them flutter-bys. (A better name, really.)
She’s flirting with the baby sitting in the next seat, but her smile’s spilling carelessly past the kid and all over me.
Toddler jiggles bathroom doorknob until she’s in. “Are you pooping?” she asks. I nod. “Then don’t forget to put a star on the chart!”
Blue sky morning, my neighbor yells repeatedly at the guy with a leaf blower. The guy hears none of it, or pretends not to.
How many days have I stood at the mirror weighing which I hate more, shaving or having a beard? Why is it still up for debate?
Savoring the stillness after the storm, an improbable calm only recently unimaginable, but behold: the toddler sleeps.
He opted to let fate make the decision by flipping a coin, but when he saw Lincoln’s head, decided that fate wanted best of three.
A squawking squadron of geese flies over my unfinished summer yard projects. Surely they’re early this year, I assure myself.
It’s a fine line between a fortress and a prison, and this house’s layers of chain link fences have completely obscured that line.
As we drove around looking at landmarks of my youth, places that had no meaning to her, I realized most had none to me, either.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, October 2015)
“Sweet dreams,” carpool driver says to waving mom in robe. Seconds after car goes, mom emerges fully dressed, hops into her jeep.
Tiny girl is filling her mom’s grocery cart with improvised lyrics and melodies. I linger at the cereals so I can listen longer.
This man is thinking hard about his crossword. Like, burning-calories hard. That’ll likely keep up until he swaps ALTO for BASS.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, September 2015)
He was measuring her delay in drinks. As he rose to hug her and toppled the condiments to the floor, he realized how late she was.
She savored the persistence of wool, its constant friction against her skin, its refusal to be forgotten. Whereas he liked cotton.
These brittle, straw lawns are the color of drought, of surrender. They’ve given up on the clouds, as I have. Together we wither.
Style-obsessed bro in Ray-Bans digs endlessly in his messenger bag, finally caves to science and removes them. Item quickly found.
“Dad, the dog got out,” boy says from the driveway moments after leaving the house door open behind him. He doesn’t chase the dog.
Mom slowly pedals along on teen daughter’s daily runs, silence except for footfalls and the rhythmic squeak of the bike’s chain.
His skin hung loosely on his frail frame, unconvincingly, like a skeleton sneaking past in a poorly tailored suit of flesh.
She runs her folks’ market 5 am to 8 pm, every day. I marvel at her schedule. She shrugs. “It’s not hard, unless you want a life.”
Child bounds from the shoe store in immaculate sneakers, reminding me of a beloved phrase I’d forgotten: “Wanna wear ’em out?”
Three dusty hula hoops lay in the wild weeds on this industrial road. Who gave up on them? Why here? What makes one say, “enough”?
On the bus with a leafy plant in a terra cotta pot, she says, “It’s his version of roses,” rolling her eyes to a female rider.
A new scratch on an old door reveals a never-seen layer of paint, a hidden history. What if scrapes on our skin were so revealing?
Three consecutive fast-food charges on the debit card history, an indictment of my dietary sins. I chide myself to carry cash.
It was a tacky shop selling cheap, impractical trinkets, gifts that declared, “Thinking of You (though not much.)” He went in.
As I walk in the wake of this woman’s familiar perfume, I feel like I’m breathing in memories.
Waiting at this airport gate, imagining who is excited to depart and who’s sad to leave. And who, like me, is torn between.
Red-eye flight delay, sleep moves through the terminal like a contagion, victims collapsing like extras in a Hollywood movie.
He coos to her as his arm wraps around her neck like a coiling snake, the tight embrace disrupting her previously steady cadence.
This little girl won’t remember the flash and echo of the fireworks, but being wrapped in her dad’s arms, his hand over her ear.
The lawn is straw, brittle as spun sugar, the crisp crunch underfoot sounding like a distant memory that’s now rushing toward me.
Our eyes momentarily lock just as 3 strings of pizza cheese flop on her chin. She snaps her gaze away, mortified by her humanity.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, August 2015)
He gripes about the heat as if it’s a personal experience, as if I needed explanation as I sit here wilting under the same sun.
Two young girls board the bus, each clutching their library books as if they were prized possessions. Which, of course, they are.
Despite the bright fluorescents, the random sprawl of bruise-hued balls makes it look like dusk has settled onto the pool table.
3 yr old relents to sleep without revolt. My elation at this tiny victory would confound my younger self. As my whole life would.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, July 2015, and Creative Nonfiction Magazine #60, Summer 2016)
Fueled with unexpected exuberance, he sprang up the steps two at a time. His age caught up with him at the top of the stairs.
It was a cinematic scene: 12 yrs old, supine on the rug, soothing my bruised heart with radio songs. My parents must’ve chuckled.
Sandalwood wafts up when she shifts in her seat, the earthy aroma kindling a dormant memory. I revel in every lurch of the bus.
I used to be startled to glimpse my dad in the mirror; now, it’s his voice that surprises me, hearing it as I talk to my daughter.
Heavy-set man shows the toddlers how to dance. One boy stops, pretends to breathe heavily, precisely mimicking his teacher’s moves.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #57, Fall 2015)
The boy’s dad tells the waitress it’s not “baby talk” but a speech impediment, the friction in his tone setting fire to his words.
Decades-old neighborhood pharmacy finally shutters, replaced by medical marijuana dispensary. Gram would have shaken her head.
He weighed the pleasure of a proper vessel against the hassle of dish soap and sponges, then poured himself a bowl of coffee
This man my age sleeping in the doorway, bundled in a thin blanket, once chose a quote for his HS yearbook. I bet he remembers it.
Their inexperience shone in the cartoonish bulk of their diaper bag, urban sherpas prepared for everything that wouldn’t happen.
The dream was pure madness–insane plot, weird locale, bizarre characters–so why does falling in love there feel like a betrayal?
Clutching the coffee cup, her slender fingers so resemble the exposed roots of an old tree that I wonder if she even needs to sip.
In the darkness, the whispered “shhhhh” of a thousand tires on the wet freeway lets me imagine it’s a river, washing away the day.
Little boy pedals furiously, trying to keep up with mom’s powerful pace as if his bike isn’t a clamped-on extension of hers.
“Oh no! We have to hide! Daddy’s cooking eggs!” I’m concerned to hear where this exchange between my toddler’s dolls will go next.
“My dad’s awesome. He hit a tree while sledding, so he went back later and cut it down.” 30 years after, I still ponder “awesome.”
There’s no valor in sins uncommitted, but he hoped his family appreciated that he could have eaten more cookies at 2am but didn’t.
She’d soon fade from his mind, as they all did, so for now he savored the daydream of her: lazy morning smiles, eager kisses.
He sent a singing telegram to win back her heart. She and her date laughed from start to finish.
“How’d it go?”
“She enjoyed it.”
Coors splashes from his can as he clumsily lumbers behind the huge fir tree. He finishes the beer by the time the seeker gives up.
Fear is always right there, just behind the door. Some days I don’t seem to notice; other days I worry endlessly about the latch.
As I kid I’d join my dad for drives to the city, eat breakfast in random motel cafes and dive bars. He was teaching me optimism.
Kneeling on the floor of the ’66 Lemans, head in mom’s lap, the hum of travel, the world slowly disappearing into the darkness.
I remember, in my 20s, the joy of finding a few forgotten fivers in my pants pockets. Two kids later, every bill is accounted for.
Dots of lantern light spot the black water, lines left dangling in the darkness as anglers fish through their coolers for beers.
Two blond boys make nonsensical gang signs as they pose for mom’s photo, oblivious to the shelf life of their so-called cool.
It’s 7:20am when she asks me for ice cream. I tell her we need to think about our food choices. We think about it over ice cream.
He’d been happy to remove the child safety latch, long unnecessary, but now each easy open of the cabinet caused a faint sadness.
He poked the glowing switch. “Not keen on seat warmers. Makes me feel like I peed myself.” For 13 miles I thought of little else.
Her head goes out the window at 30 MPH, eyes barely open as the wind whips at her ears. What’s my version of this simple bliss?
“Was this impulsive?” I ask my new bride in my dream. I’m worried because I’m already married. “No, this is true love,” she lies.
Teenager is trying on toughness for size, cussing into his phone, ugly words that spill out awkwardly. It’s an ill-fitting suit.
I push her the bowl. “That’s how much I love you. More than brownie batter.” She shrugs as if that’s a low bar. She is mistaken.
The sun is barely up when a gust of floral perfume and smoked weed blows into the bus seat next to me. She puts on her sunglasses.
He’d long forgotten mocking his parents’ elation about an Eagles reunion as he dropped $75 for a Jane’s Addiction revival.
He thought he could dodge the bratty girls’ lemonade stand. “Sorry, all I have is a card.” One held up a phone. “We have Square.”
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, April 2015 and Creative Nonfiction Magazine #56, Summer 2015)
Lemonade stands were an annoying social contract on his street. The obligation to support them made every glass taste bitter.
She stared at him, a doll dangling from each hand. He leaned toward her. “Honey, ‘five minutes’ doesn’t mean five actual minutes.”
Before she can break their awkward silence, he picks up a newspaper and pretends to read. She flips him off behind the pages.
He wears hipster regalia as if it’s impenetrable armor, but the chink is his black-rimmed glasses, tiny windows into his doubt.
My Irish dad called St. Paddy’s Day “a drunkard amateur hour,” the puking wanker in an oversized leprechaun hat kindly reminds me.
Then: “DADDY!” and a huge hug after work. Now: “Hey” from behind a book, camped on couch. A new, tiny crack in my heart each time.
A delightful ballet, his endlessly graceful efforts to tell a story despite his friend’s repeated failure to finish his sentences.
Black Sabbath geysers from the open windows of an ’82 Corolla. It’s 7:00am. 41 degrees. Someday those facts will matter. Not today.
Old man extracts four yellowed photos from wallet, gently spreads them on the table like pieces of a puzzle he’s trying to solve.
She stormed out mid-meal in a torrent of curses. He was silent for a moment, then reached over and took two fries from her plate.
The doughy, middle-aged guy cranking Journey in his family sedan may be a cliche, but he’s the only one enjoying this red light.
Lovely brunette now taking daily smoke breaks outside her office. I give it two weeks before a guy in her office takes up smoking.
Moss steadily devours my neighbor’s wooden fence. Slow, lovely destruction.
Squawking murder of crows steadily turning this sidewalk into a foul Jackson Pollock painting. This is no place for steady gaits.
As much as he disliked her red lipstick, he quickly realized he should have found a way to say that without mentioning clowns.
“Fudg-ick-el!” my daughter chants. I feel a rush of being her age, sunny kitchen, old Norge freezer, box of ten, summer eternal.
Every time Ms. Swift sings “Boys only want love if it’s torture,”I tell my daughter, “Not true.” Anxious to see who she believes.
Neighborhood yenta gripes, “Every day he plugs in those damn holiday lights. It’s FEBRUARY!” I nod. These facts are indisputable.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, March 2015)
I shuddered as I woke from a terrifying dream, not just because of the dream, but realizing I’d conjured the horror myself.
As the barista made his drink, he scooped all of the candy samples into his pocket. Everyone in line silently plotted his death.
He was torn between his loathing of insipid food photos on FB and the ache to show how perfectly these hashbrowns had turned out.
He hated the nickname “Stan the man.” Fine for Musial and Mikita, but too much hubris for an accountant. Still, people persisted.
She stares out the train window as if looking for the answer. I start looking for it myself, wondering what it will look like.
He aches to be older, but the scattered hairs on his lip, thin as grass growing in an abandoned lot, only underscores his youth.
I bet that when I’m chastised for eating three of the cookies baked to give as gifts, no one will thank me for not eating five.
Saw a photo of a bunch of old people. Caption revealed they’re all about my age. Logical conclusion: the caption is full of lies.
Pacing madman on train wants to know why no one will talk to him. “Cuz you’re not interesting,” annoyed woman accurately deadpans.
I saw three different television celebrities on the train today, a rare opportunity made possible by not wearing my eyeglasses.
Fell asleep with my hand on the tablet. Woke to see a stranger accepted my friend request. Now we’ll be awkward friends forever.
Just noticed I eat canned almonds the same way my dad did. Thought of him thru whole can. (Usually only sad the almonds are gone.)
Written on back of a 1930’s b/w photo: “Ben + Pat and God Damn It.” Flip side, 2 men and a dog. I bet that dog got confused a lot.
Two enormous mice menacingly converge on oblivious toddler. I’m too late to save him as one mouse says “Boo!” (Daycare Halloween)
Not yet dawn, the family sleeps as I type away in the basement. I love them all completely, yet I so appreciate that they sleep.
Making out on the bus stop bench, shameless in their passion, unable to imagine a day when they’ll just sit and talk. Or just sit.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine newsletter, December 2014, and Creative Nonfiction Magazine #55, Spring 2015)
I pretend to want a hug as my sixth-grader heads into school. She recoils in mock horror. We both laugh…only one of us sighs.
Craving more of my toddler’s improvised melodies, I skip the usual turn home. She notices, stops. We take the next turn in silence.
Twenty seven daydreams muscling for space among the seats and stanchions as twenty seven people ride the train in silence.
The welcome rush of cool morning that pushes through the window is quickly wrestled down and suffocated by the resident heat.
Laying in the sweltering darkness amid a discordant symphony of droning box fans, I find a frequency and hum along; then another…
What does optimism look like? Handbill for an internet provider slipped under the door just below the “No Soliciting Please” sign.
Mom on bus tells antsy boy “I wish I had a belt or wooden spoon.” I try to will him to stillness, but how long will that save him?
Carefully planning my final indulgences before starting my diet and realizing the start date has to be pushed out — again.
Stumbled upon the world’s most affordable time machine: grape kool-aid.
“Hi, welcome to Subway” the man says to gorgeous woman who arrives after me. Must’ve been too busy for formalities when I arrived.
She’s trying to read. He’s trying to flirt. Neither of them very successfully.
Too sunny walk with kids, saw–lemonade stand? Nope. Yard sale. Explained my mistake, owner said “can I get you some water?”
Two kids laughing at an old man chasing a bill that blew from his hand. Funny stuff if you don’t understand the value of the bill.
His foul mood silently seeped out, spreading across the office like frost across a pane of glass until everything was obscured.
Tiny spider builds thin, delicate web on my office lamp. A housefly would tear right through it, yet that doesn’t stop the spider.
Woman on my train has “Crazy” tattooed in large letters down one calf and “Bitch” down the other. I see no reason to doubt her.
Inbox has 314 unopened items, all weeks, months, even years old. How long will I continue to believe that I’ll ever open them?
Mourners solemnly congregate in the church basement, envious of their kids who squeal in the playground just outside the window.
Conference call leader delivers his dense, carefully crafted eloquence to an audience slowly scrolling through Facebook updates.
Macho teen swaggers past passersby in his tight tank, his bravado undercut by his sucking on a milkshake straw.
Frustrated couple on train struggling to explain their ongoing inability to communicate, apparently oblivious to the irony.
As motel neon refracts in rain drops on the train window, I think of mom, still finding Light Bright pegs years after kids left.
As the wailing ambulance pulls up to the fitness center, I drive past eating fast-food shrimp and feeling completely validated.
23 singular little worlds suddenly, silently overlapping on the TriMet bus. I love that. The Venn diagram in its natural habitat.
What does optimism look like? A plywood slab, spray painted with “keep out,” leaning unfastened against the hole in a broken fence.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #52, Summer 2014)
Thick fog obscures the honking geese overhead. The dog pauses a moment, staring up into the magic, then tugs the leash to move on.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #58, winter 2016)
Monday morning bus ride, necktied commuter absent-mindedly scrapes flecks of mud from his shoes, the last evidence of the weekend.
I slam the can’s lid to hide the disposable diapers from judgmental neighbors. Trash guy knows my secret. I avoid eye contact.
(Featured in Creative Nonfiction Magazine #51, Spring 2014)
A tide of brightness steadily rises around the legs of the ladder as she takes down the Christmas lights in the dark yard.
Amethyst in his class ring shines as he grips the stanchion. Nearing 50, he wears it where his wedding ring would be. Committed.
He plays the “sweet old man” role poorly, leaning too close, oblivious to her growing discomfort. Wait, wasn’t that his bus stop?
Walking through the vapor trail of perfume, he thinks of something nearly forgotten. The scent dissipates faster than the memory.
Gently, awkwardly, he wrapped his arm around her, not yet sure if she would melt into the embrace or wriggle free.