Monday, March 23, 2015


“Welcome to Orlando!” the woman at the rental car counter chirped. She tipped a finger at the mouse ears on her head. “Are you here to “Welcome to Orlando!” the woman at the rental car counter chirped. She tipped a finger at the mouse ears on her head. “Are you here to see Mickey?”
I could feel my brother losing it beside me. I put a hand on his arm, but he spoke before I could stop him.
“Actually, we’re here to pick up our father’s ashes,” he said through gritted teeth. “Could you just get the car, please?”
At least he didn’t tell her where she could shove those mouse ears.
There is something particularly cruel about a death happening in a place whose tag line is “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Today marks four years since my father’s sudden passing. He was at Disney World with my mother and the youngest two of my six siblings. He ran ten miles under the full moon — a Supermoon that night, which I am sure he enjoyed — then he went to bed, woke with a cramp in his leg, and was killed by a pulmonary embolism.
Four years. It is unfathomable in so many ways. Some days, it seems like just yesterday. I still have moments where I pick up the phone to call him. Sometimes, though, it seems his death was an eternity ago. I meet new people and it’s one of the rote details of my life: I’m the oldest of seven children, my son is eighteen, my mother is alive, my father is not.
The other morning, as I prepared to give this post a last proofing, I saw a Facebook message from a friend whose mother had just passed away.
Please tell me it gets better, she said, because right now I feel like throwing up most of the time.
I remember that feeling. And it does get better, though it doesn’t seem to be a progressive sort of thing. One step up, one back. Sometimes I can talk about my father easily, happily. I can be grateful for all the years he enriched my life. I can joke about his quirks. Other times the loss still feels fresh. I get blindsided by tears and that lump in my throat.
The thing I try to remember is that I had my father for nearly 37 years. He was my role model, mentor, and ultimately my friend. We worked together, ran together, consumed unholy quantities of beer and pizza together.
Because nothing in my life is normal, perhaps least of all my family, my youngest two siblings are twins who were only seven years old when our father passed. (Go ahead. Let that sink in. My parents had seven kids over 30 years. Yup.) Seven years old. Eleven now. Where I have memories, they just have loss.
Daily I work at being grateful for all the ways my father made my life special. I try to share with my younger siblings in a way that won’t feel like salt in a wound, offering funny stories or singing along to songs he liked, telling them when they share his strengths or mannerisms.
I’ll share with you, too.
Here are some of the things that made my father unique:
My father loved babies. The whole deal. When my mother was pregnant, his hands were always on her belly. When she delivered, he was there (and would excitedly recount every graphic detail to anyone foolish enough to ask how it went). He loved holding babies, changing them, bathing them, bouncing them around and singing to them. He spoke to babies in a tone that completely engaged them. If you wanted a baby to stop crying, my dad was the man for the job. (In hindsight, I should have just left The Boy with my dad — Papa Al — for those first six miserable, colicky months.)

  • When it came to singing his kids to sleep, my father had the most unusual repertoire. He favored songs about ill-fated lovers and tragic teen deaths: “Teen Angel,” “Tell Laura I Love Her,” and “Running Bear” were staples. My personal favorites were “Everglades” by The Kingston Trio (go ahead and Google the lyrics; it’s especially screwy when you consider we were living on the outskirts of the Everglades at the time) and Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” No matter how restless I was when I first climbed into bed, you could bet I’d be sleeping soundly by the time “the church bell chimed 29 times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Sweet dreams.
  • My father was a culinary whiz — if you like Spam and egg sandwiches, potato-chip-and-cheese on Wonder bread with Miracle Whip, or chowder with Cheez-Its.
  • My father was fiercely protective of his kids, and determined that his daughters should have every opportunity afforded his sons. When one of my sisters was threatened and sexually harassed at school, and then school officials mishandled things in a way that reeked of misogyny, my father hired an attorney to advocate on her behalf and bring about some changes in the school administration. Nobody put his Baby in a corner.
  • My father was the best youth sports coach ever. Not exaggerating. Everyone got playing time on his teams — not because he subscribed to the “everyone is equal” nonsense that seems to be taking over all youth activities today, but because he brought out the best in each player and made everyone truly work as a team. He found ways to connect with every child he coached. He never belittled, always encouraged.
  • My father thought it was perfectly normal to waterski — slalom — in 200 feet of water, dodging bluefish, or to swim with seals in the frigid water off Monomoy Island — a favorite feeding place for Great White Sharks.
  • My father played as hard as he worked — and he passed that trait along to his kids. I’d need more fingers than I’ve got to count the number of times he and I stood together at the starting line of a road race saying, “Yeah, we probably shouldn’t have had so much [beer…pizza…fill in the blank….] last night.” But once we’d crossed the finish line? Beeline for the pizza, maybe a beer on the way home.
  • My father had a twisted sense of humor. Think Pulp Fiction. That was my dad, through and through.
  • My father was the Grammar Police. I totally inherited that gene, yet I always went to him for editorial help. Writing his obituary was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I actually sent the draft to his email. He didn’t respond. I suppose he had better things to do at that point.
  • My father was an actual police officer prior to going to law school.
  • My father always carried a nail file in the breast pocket of his suit jacket. In a world where people wear their pajamas in public, he still polished his Florsheim shoes and always had a perfect executive manicure.
  • My father loved watching YouTube videos of live music. In his office, where he often passed fourteen hour days, one of his two computer screens was almost always displaying music videos: Queen, David Bowie, Talking Heads, The Smiths. Yep. He was an attorney, the VP and branch manager of a national title insurance company, and there he’d be, bopping around the office cheerfully singing, “Psycho Killer.” When employees came to him with questions, it wasn’t unusual to be encouraged to join him in singing a few bars of “Girlfriend in a Coma” before discussing the issue.
The trip my brother and I made to Orlando four years ago to bring our father’s ashes home was a brutal comedy of errors. From the relentlessly cheerful people everywhere we went to the backwater funeral home across the street from a taxidermist, it all would have been darkly funny if it had been happening to anyone but us.
And still, there was a moment when I looked at my brother and started laughing. Crazy, maniacal laughter.
“You know who would find this really, really funny?” I said.
He laughed through his tears.
“Yeah,” he said. “Dad.” 
The beginning!
Showoffs! (They actually did this right up until the summer before my father passed. And my mother is still waterskiing.)
Maybe his hair was too long for police work?
The next step.
Tiny me!
My brother tortured me for years, but here it is…photographic evidence that I may have started it.
Another baby.
And another one.
I guess someone neglected to take pictures of babies for a few years…
Go Pats!
Wild Dog Tri. We swam, biked and ran for brunch.
Kicking my butt in the NK 5K. If you look closely, just over his right shoulder there’s a redhead totally giving up.
On the water. As usual.

Friday, March 6, 2015


A few weeks ago, I posted about how I’d been working at making friends with Winter this year.  It’s been going well overall, I think.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time outdoors every day, whatever the weather, and I’ve cultivated some winter-appreciation activities indoors and out.
I just have to say it now, though: I’m done.
Really.  Stick a fork in me.
Winter, I am so over you.  And you know what?
It’s not me.  It’s you.  You’re one cold, relentless bastard.  L.L. Bean recently notified me that the snowshoes I have on backorder are expected to ship for delivery in June, and here’s the thing: I actually believe it may still be snowing then.  You see what you’ve done to my hope, Winter, you heartless S.O.B.?
We can’t go on like this.  I need a little “me” time.  A little space and distance.  A little goddamned Vitamin D.
Here’s the deal: I’ve booked a flight to Miami and am looking forward to some sun and fun with a girlfriend.  In the meantime, I am shamelessly dreaming of Summer.  That’s right.  Summer’s my favorite, and there’s no sense denying it any more.
Hell, there are pictures that absolutely make me drool.  My god, the memories…
First, there’s the way summer days evolve into summer nights:

There are the modes of transportation:

There’s the food and drink:

There’s Fourth of July:

There are lush gardens and flowers for clipping:

Even the storms are pretty:

So, though there is more snow falling outside right now, I will not grumble.  I will simply snuggle in to dream of Summer days.  You can’t steal my bliss, Winter.  You’ll run out of bluster soon, you cold, hard meanie, and in time I will once again feel like this:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Years ago, when The Boy was still small, he and I watched the movie Lilo and Stitch. For those unfamiliar with the premise, Lilo is an orphan being raised by her older sister. Stitch is a space-alien-critter who happens into their lives and (of course) endears himself to them over time. There’s a poignant moment near the end of the film where Stitch, referring to Lilo and her sister, says, “This is my family. It is small and it is broken, but it is good.”
This was the moment when The Boy, all young and naive and bright-eyed, enthusiastically said to me, “Just like us, Mommy!”
I had to hide out in the bathroom crying for a good hour or so.
Single parents will understand. That whole broken-family thing will nail you in the gut every time. It doesn’t matter how great a parent you may be, or how the world is changing to accommodate different family structures. Single parents always feel second-best. And they always worry that their kids do, too.
I thought of that Lilo and Stitch moment recently, as I found a copy of the DVD while I packed up the last of my belongings still remaining at my former home in the wake of my recent divorce. Here’s where my convoluted life probably requires some ‘splainin.’ The Ex, about whom I’ve blogged until y’all likely wanted to scream get over it already, is not my first ex-husband.
That’s right — I’m 41 and twice divorced.
Yay me!
The Boy’s father — let’s call him Tee — and I met when I was young and foolish and he was old and horny. He was a lot older than me.
So much older that, after my family first met him (whilst I waited for the dropped jaws to to be retrieved from the floor) one of my smartass brothers deadpanned, “Well, I think it’s nice. Dad didn’t have much of a father figure. He could use someone to look up to.”
In the face of such quips, I did the only thing I was likely to do at that stage of my life. I married Tee. It didn’t take us long to realize that what we’d done was idiocy. Two weeks after the wedding, I packed my bags and left.
And then I found out I was pregnant.
In hindsight, I think Tee and I get an ‘A’ for effort. We did our best to make the unworkable work. Ultimately, we parted ways, fought and made a couple of attorneys richer for a while, then settled into co-parenting amicably. Tee adored The Boy and was always a great dad. For a number of years, Tee actually worked for my family, managing their golf business. He played golf with my father and brothers. He joined my family for holidays. It was about as good as it gets for an odd couple like us.
Still, I was ever aware that The Boy and I had this awkward, broken little family. His father was old enough to regularly be mistaken for his grandfather. I wondered if we would ever escape the weight of past errors.
Then I met the man you now know as The Ex. He was handsome and funny and, I thought at first, just quirky enough to fit right into our awkward, broken little family. I dared hope he might be Stitch to The Boy’s Lilo.
Over time, though, their relationship became one of the major issues in our marriage. They were just too different, and I was forever caught in the middle. There were other issues, too — stuff I couldn’t make up for any novel. As one who appreciates life most when it’s drama-free, I knew something had to give.
So, once again, I found myself divorced. I worked my tail off to keep things amicable, and before long I landed in the most unusual of situations: living as The Ex’s neighbor. Serving as his housesitter and dogsitter while he was away on business trips. Continuing to help him with management of our former home and rental properties.
A neighbor teased me as I helped The Ex dig one of our tenants out of the snow that had drifted against the apartment door.
“Forget about you writing another book. He should,” he said, nodding at The Ex. “He took your house and your dog in the divorce, and here you are still taking care of both! Now that’s a story!”
Haha. Funny neighbor. There’s a guy who’s lucky not to have taken a snow shovel to the face.
But a lightbulb went on.
There’s keeping things amicable.
And then there’s being a doormat.
The Ex had not been particularly kind to me for years. I walked on eggshells in my own home. When I begged him to help save our marriage, he was willing to do exactly nothing to that end. And yet, every time he appealed to me for help, I was there.
I began to wonder why.
I also began to wonder if I could truly move on while living so close to him that I saw him daily. We would walk and drink beer together at the dog beach while our pups played. Sometimes it seemed nice, as if we should win a medal for being the Best Divorced Couple Ever. More often, though, it was just weird and painful. Sad.
A child’s movie might seem an unlikely catalyst for change, but when I found that Lilo and Stitch DVD, something clicked.
I’d been small and broken too long.
The question was how to move forward. I took inventory.
The Boy is currently living with Tee, attending community college, and trying to figure out the path ahead.
I have plans for a small house I’d like to build. I need to save money toward that goal while helping The Boy pay for college.
Meanwhile, Tee has an in-law apartment in his home, something he and I had spoken about recently. It’s been in need of renovation since he bought the house years ago, and he wondered if I might be interested in doing the work in exchange for an affordable place to live. At first, I thought he was crazy. It sounded like the sort of thing likely to end in an episode of Dateline.
But then again?
Maybe not so much.
Tee and I have functioned as friends and coparents for over 15 years now. And I realized that, while I have been living in one of the most beautiful places in the world, it’s no longer the right place for me. Every lovely aspect of the area is steeped in memories of The Ex. And if the memories aren’t enough, there he is in the flesh: driving past the front of my house in his car, past the back of my house in his boat, walking on the beach, calling me for help with this or that.
While there may be no geographic solution for most problems, this may be an exception.
One of my very best friends lives right across the street from Tee, on the river where she and I swim together as often as possible in summer. Several other good friends live in the same neighborhood. I don’t know what’s in the water there, but it’s Good People Central. And I need good people around me right now.
So I’ve found someone to sublet my little piece of paradise for the duration of my lease. I’m working on making the apartment at Tee’s my own, an affordable place to call home while I find my way forward. The Ex seems to understand that I need to move on, and has promised to enlist a proper dog- and house-sitter.
Here’s a snapshot of my life right now:
I am 41 years old.
Twice divorced.
Escaping my second ex-husband by moving into an apartment owned by my first ex-husband.
And feeling better than I have in a while.
Truth is stranger than fiction, right?
The other night, Tee and The Boy and I were surveying the progress on my new digs, talking and laughing, and a thought made me smile…
This is my family.
It is small, and it is broken, but it is good.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I was born in Miami.
Because of this, I am quite certain, my body lacks some sort of requisite insulation for the New England climate I currently inhabit. I was built for beach days and balmy evenings, afternoon thunder storms and scorching sunshine. I can weather 100% humidity like a Southern belle, fresh as a daisy.
But winter in New England?
I break out my parka in September. From then until approximately June, I feel like I have ice water running through my veins. Hot baths and hot beverages are my BFFs. Y’all think I am constantly adopting animals because I’m kind? Nope. Just looking for more warm, furry bodies to occupy my bed and keep the heating bills in check.
It’s now February, that time of year when I regularly scour the internet for deals on airfare to warm, sunny places. I dream of escape. This year, though, I have also been trying something new. I’ve been trying to make friends with winter, to reclaim a little of the joy the season used to hold for me as a child.
And whaddaya know? It’s working. This weekend was an excellent example.
Morning: I took a long beach walk with a neighbor, chatting as our dogs ran and played. The sky was stark white and the air smelled of snow. There was no need to worry about leashes or tourists. We had the beach all to ourselves.
Afternoon: I went snowshoeing with a friend. We talked and laughed our way through the pristine winter wonderland surrounding a small pond. The wind stirred the tree limbs above and sent flurries swirling down around us. We scooped up handfuls of snow and ate it like ice cream.
Evening: I drove home on dark, winding wooded roads. Snow fell in my headlights. I saw deer and rabbits. I passed very few other cars.
This, my friends, is something you can’t get in Miami.
Winter in New England is long and solitary. But the days are starting to lengthen, and the snow — while a nuisance — is pretty. How many ways can one weather the bleak midwinter? Let me count a few…
Bundle up and get outdoors.
Catch snowflakes on your tongue.
Sip cocoa by a fire.
Sip wine by a fire.
Paint your toes a summery color.
Eat breakfast in bed.
Eat dinner in bed.
Make breakfast for dinner. Eat that in bed, too.
Bake cookies.
Make snow angels.
Make love.
Tell stories.
Write letters.
Plan a summer garden.
Learn something new.
Make Valentines.
Read! Read! Read!
Tell me — what would you add to this list?

Thursday, February 5, 2015


My brain is sometimes troublesome. Good stuff happens in my life all the time — magical stuff, even — and my skeptical brain seeks to discount it. Lately, though, a seemingly endless series of coincidences has brought a variety of good people and growth opportunities into my life. The more I’ve focused on what I want and need in life, the more life just serves it up.
Awesome, right?
Except for that damned nuisance brain of mine. It always looks for the logical explanation behind miracles large and small, always seeks to discount the magic, always seeks to pull back the curtain on the phony wizard. And somewhere, in the deepest, darkest corner of that grey matter, a nasty little voice whispers: You think this good stuff is for you? You think you deserve it?
Enter Mandy, author of the blog Life Unfurled.
Once upon a time, I fought social media kicking and screaming. I understood that as an author, I needed to post, blog, and Tweet ‘til the cows come home. But I wanted to do it about as much as I wanted to eat those same cows (I haven’t eaten beef since age 12, and I haven’t missed it). I got comfortable with Facebook, worked on the blog, and am more or less keeping up with my least-favorite: Twitter.
But last week, the #MondayBlogs hashtag on Twitter (launched by Rachel Thompson, author of Broken Places) led me to the post ‘Sink or Swim’ on Life Unfurled. Mandy struck a chord with me in discussing the divorce she is going through. I contacted her and struck up a conversation, which we eventually moved from Twitter to Facebook.
You know, so we could converse in more than 140 characters at a time.
We discovered much in common: we’re both self-employed, both about the same age (OK, she’s younger), both on our second divorce, both wondering how the hell we got where we are. She lives on a boat — something I continue to contemplate — and even looks like she could be my little sister.
Most significant, though, was something I discovered when I went back to her blog and read every one of her posts. She is a survivor of sexual abuse, and as a result, she is battling PTSD and anxiety.
As most people close to me know, I too am a survivor of sexual abuse and rape. Beginning when I was just 4 or 5 years old, I was abused by a teenage boy who had myriad problems and took them out on me when he babysat. In my own teenage years, I trusted someone I thought was a friend, and found myself the victim of a violent sexual assault.
In the years that followed, I became the poster child for the symptoms of PTSD commonly suffered by survivors of sexual abuse and rape. I had an eating disorder. I cut myself. I was depressed. I abused alcohol and drugs. I had zero sexual boundaries. I attempted suicide.
Again, these are things most people close to me know. I was fortunate enough to receive excellent medical help and counseling in my early twenties. I learned that being secretive about these awful things that had happened to me only exacerbated the shame that fueled my self-destructive behaviors. And that I had no reason to be secretive.
No one invites abuse or assault.
That shame belongs to the perpetrators alone.
It’s been a long time since I keenly felt the pain of those earlier chapters of my life. I took my last antidepressant pill in 1998 and have since managed my mental health through diet, meditation, and exercise. When you see me post on Facebook about crossing the finish line at a sprint triathlon before you’re even out of bed and think, Damn! She’s crazy! Yup. Absolutely. And all that physical activity is how I keep the crazy from eating me alive.
I’d been thinking quite a bit lately about sharing my experience with my readers. Though the pain of my past seems far removed to me now, some of the difficulty I went through as I weathered my divorce in the past year reminded me that no matter how much we might like to believe we can leave certain chapters of our lives behind entirely, we are all the sum of each and every one of our experiences. Amidst the sadness and loss of my divorce, that nasty little voice buried deep in my brain would sometimes creep up: What did you expect? You thought you deserved better?
Only now, my heart responds, Why, yes. Yes, I do.
This, I have realized, is the reason my painful past is worth sharing right now. When I read Mandy’s posts in Life Unfurled, I knew our paths crossed for a reason. She began her blog with the intent of releasing the burden of shame that isn’t hers to carry. I set that burden down long ago, but I still live with some of the scars.
But I live.
I live, I live, I live.
And she will too.
My brain may still doubt all the wonderful miracles life keeps sending my way. That dark little part of it might still cling to the training it received from people who hurt me. But in this mortal realm, my smarty-pants brain is stuck on board with my heart, and my heart is at the helm.
As Mandy wrote in her introductory blog post, “let’s support each other in the lives we dream of living.”
Sometimes we just need to know how many people are in the very same boat.
In addition to #MondayBlogs, author Rachel Thompson began #SexAbuseChat on Twitter — every Tuesday beginning at 6 p.m. PST, survivors of sexual abuse and rape can join in the conversation.
If you need help, link here to RAINN for a list of international resources for victims and survivors of rape, sexual abuse and incest.
And if you have difficulty finding the help you need, please feel free to PM me through my Facebook page. I’m not a counselor by any means, but I will gladly listen and help you find the support you need to live the happy life you deserve.
Much love,