THIRTY-FOUR

I don’t think of the first fraught birth day, two-and-a half months early, the icy fear, the grim pronouncements. Now I remember sunny still-warm October days on our deck, my son surrounded by cousins and friends, laughter and cake, the marsh in hues of gold. I want to find the multiverse where this day exists and reside there forever.  

Jesse at eight. You are 34 tomorrow somewhere in the multiverse.

I Fall

I’m two years old and wailing, facing the camera in the black and white photo. Underneath the white curlicue edge, my Uncle Joe has written “I fall.” My fear of heights is deep-seated and so visceral it probably goes back to a life before this one, the result of a misstep on a cliff road or a sacrificial hurling into a fiery pit. In this life, it will be another’s fall from a tall building, the man that jumps from a window of the Hotel Warwick on Sixth Avenue that will cause me to go into labor after I walk through his scrambled brains. I deliver my son ten weeks early, like the fulfillment of an ancient, unfathomable decree.

Custodial

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself / In dark woods, the right road lost” –Dante Alighieri

Can’t believe I got lost in the woods I have known since moving here in 1994…but I took a wrong turn with Titi and Sugar straining the leash, and “found myself” wandering in a wood that was unrecognizable since winter’s deadfall! Meanwhile, my husband planned to surprise me at the bay farm. Usually you can see the vast expanse of meadow pretty easily–but I was wandering in the woods nearby, clambering over deadfall, lost. After making three circles, my husband became alarmed and suspicious of a guy he saw emerging alone from a different wooded area. With lurid pictures of finding me dead in the woods in his now terror-filled brain, he took down the guy’s license plate! I finally found my way out and stopped at the home of some neighbors. Our dogs played and her husband even gave me some “special” cookies! I looked at my phone and saw that my husband had been calling (this is very unusual–he considers a cell phone an electronic jail bracelet and never uses his). I called back and we met up at the entrance to the woods. Still laughing over the license plate takedown!

Plague Diary

I kept a plague diary during the hideous year of 2020. Here’s a random August 31 entry:

“Chris made me laugh so hard tonight it felt like a multiple orgasm. Deo gratias.”

“Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly.” -Rose Franken, author and playwright (28 Dec 1895-1988) 

Titi Cooper, mob boss

Titi morphs into a mob boss by pretending the rib bone in her mouth is a cigar….

The fact is that Titi is totally a boss! Her low, somehow manly bark warns me against going downstairs, talking loudly and closing the bathroom door.

I obey, because…she’s the boss.

2020

Pandemic year. Also the year we said goodbye to our two rescues, Lucky and Frenchy. Lucky died in January, 2020, and Frenchy followed in September. Lucky and Frenchy were seventeen years old. We had had them for thirteen years.

Both Lucky and Frenchy will be featured in my new book about rescues and mutual healing. Not sure of the title yet, or when the pub date is, but it is now in the works.

Lucky and Frenchy

During the pandemic year, I finished the dog/healing book, and Chris and I shot a segment for a compilation film about quarantine. It was Frenchy’s last role; he played “Custody Dog.” The film is called With/In and should be out next year. Our segment is called “Nuts.” I wrote the scene, Chris directed, and the production sent us the equipment. We then shot the film ourselves in two terror and laughter-filled days (on one very late evening, I thought I had forgotten to turn on the sound–after five flailing moments of desperation, I realized I had just turned off the sound five minutes ago. The result of a fourteen hour day!).

I was dreading the coming dark, lonely winter. And we were both mourning Frenchy. But I thought about the other dogs, the ones who no one else was adopting. And I went to Petfinder, and found Titi, a six year old female from Louisiana who had spent her entire life in a cage, giving up litter after litter. When CENLA rescued her, they found her harness growing into her flesh. Titi was a fear biter as a result of her abuse.

No one was adopting Titi. Then, we were! And we asked Wonder Rescue Lady Sarah Kelly if there was another dog that could come as Titi’s companion. She told us about eight year old Sugar. We adopted them both, and their stories will bring a fitting end to the book about rescues and mutual healing in a year when the entire world was grieving.

Titi and Sugar at the East Street Bogs.

We’re both double-vaccinated and ready for 2021…

Thank you Andre Dubus!

Celebrity Picks: Andre Dubus III

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Andre Dubus III wrote one of our favorite novels of 2018. It had been ten years since he’d written a novel, and it was well worth the wait. (Appropriately, it was titled Gone So Long.) AD3 is one of our greatest living writers of fiction, and we hope we don’t have to wait another decade for his next book.

But while you’re waiting, you might want to check out his picks, in which you just might be introduced to one or two talented writers whom you haven’t previously heard of.

For more recommendations, see the Amazon Books Editors’ picks for the Best Books of the Year.


Favorite Picks by Andre Dubus III

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Ma Speaks Up: And a First-Generation Daughter Talks Back by Marianne Leone

I can think of few writers, alive or dead, who can make us laugh out loud in one sentence only to wipe the tears off our cheeks in the next. Marianne Leone achieved this so compellingly in her first book, Jesse: A Mother’s Story, and she does it again here, brilliantly, in this enduring love song to her Italian mother. Like Leone’s own roots in the blue collar neighborhood of “The Lake”, Ma Speaks Up is gritty yet tender, tough but vulnerable, wise and life-loving and irreverent, all in the light and shadow of our shared mortality. In exploring the life of her unforgettable mother, Marianne Leone illuminates themes as wide ranging as social class, immigrant life, the Catholic church, the agony of adolescence, marital and maternal and paternal love, and far more. And like all of the best memoirs, Ma Speaks Up carries us back to the fragmented and sometimes elusive beauty of our own lives. This is an exquisitely rendered book by an immensely gifted writer, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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How Are You Going to Save Yourself by JM Holmes

It is a rare gift to us all when a writer’s talents and subject command equal attention, but that is just what we have here in J.M. Holmes’s superb debut, How Are You Going to Save Yourself?Written with spare, colloquial, and deeply evocative prose, these linked stories capture the contemporary lives of young men trying to find their way in this world, young men who also happen to be black in a post-industrial, ever changing cultural landscape. These powerful stories herald the rise of an important and timely new voice among us, and I will now look for anything by J.M. Holmes.

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The Concrete by Daniel Abbott

Every few years, if we’re lucky, there comes along that rare novel that feels dictated from the very pulse of the times in which we live, the one that pulls us in and won’t let go, and when we’re finished, we feel the urgent need to spread the news about it far and wide and right away. Daniel Abbot’s The Concrete is that novel. Written in a street-wise yet deeply compassionate voice, this mesmerizing narrative takes us into the lives of men, women, and children who are trying to survive any way they can, fighting the demons of addiction and violence along the way, taking part in the “flesh game”, trying to love and be loved and do the right thing, even when they sometimes don’t. This is a heartbreakingly beautiful novel, an honest work of art, and it heralds the debut of a remarkable and important young American novelist.


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