Tag Archives: family

my mother takes on the world

My mom and I are walking around her housing complex in Boca Raton
when she starts talking about how she doesn’t like Facebook
how people rant over their problems and disagreements out in public for all to see 
“Who cares?”
when she gets angry enough to explode
She puts all of her rage in a typed profanity-laced note she’ll later delete
Directed at people that piss her off

Hearing this out of her mouth
Makes me think of a forgotten piece of china lifted from its spot in a cupboard
revealing something you’d been looking for for a while.

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how to lose ten lbs like me

Lose your grandmother
Go back to the home where you grew into
whatever you are now
Endure your mother
with wet eyes implores

“I want you to set some goals

My side of the family struggles with weight issues

I don’t want you to get sick

Look at me

I know what it’s like to be heavy

But you have to try…”

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The Way Things Worked Back Then

I wrote this heavy tale about 4 months ago. Sent it around to some lit maggy-type places. It got a lot of rejections. I think there are some patches of good writing in there, though 🙂

Between 2003 and 2007, my grandfather — that is, my mother’s father – appeared in about a dozen family photographs. Most of these were extended family group pictures, and more often than not he was on one side or the other, his arm disappearing behind someone’s shoulder. He looked gaunt (a result of the battle he was waging with Parkinson’s), but also genuinely thrilled to be present for each of them (a result of, as my mother liked to say, a heart so big it should have had its own zip code).

If you inspected these images for more than a quick glance, you might notice something else. The light did not catch him the way that it did the rest of the family. It was a little like someone dropped him into these shots from some other neck of the universe.

And that was kind of what was going on. Grandpa checked out in March of 2003 when his three-day-a-week nurse discovered his feeble body in his favorite sofa chair in his apartment a few towns over from our house on the North Shore of Long Island. By the time he began showing up in the photos, he had already exited this world — at least in the physical sense.

At 9, I was not yet schooled in the soul-crushing rigidity of the adult world. At the time, my young life was teeming with fiction and fantasy — Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy. So it wasn’t an extraordinary stretch when my dead grandpa started showing up in photos. That was just the way things worked back then.


My aunt delivered the news over the telephone. I was at the kitchen table watching a Saved by the Bell rerun, and observing the exquisite beauty of Kelly Kapowsky, one of the characters. My mother, in the midst of preparing my school lunch for the day, began speaking extremely quietly and quickly into the receiver, so that it seemed like she was conversing in a different language altogether. After a minute or so, she took the phone into her bedroom and never returned.

My dad, who had been 10 minutes into his commute to Manhattan, returned and drove me to school.

While we waited at a notoriously long red light, he told me what was going on.

“Shane, you already know Grandpa Mel was sick. Well he passed this morning. He…”

He was going to say something more, but he started getting choked up.

“He’s dead?”


It was difficult to imagine my grandfather not being of this world anymore. Grandpa was sick for so much of my young life that the word itself — “sick,” that is — stopped meaning anything to me.

In my mind, he was just this goofy guy who didn’t make a lot of sense when he spoke, smiled every chance he got, and got down on all fours to play Legos with me. It didn’t even occur to me that he was going to die one day from his disease.

The light went green, and we sat in silence for a few moments as Dad drove.

At the next red, he wanted to know if I had anything to ask him.

“Are you driving me to school because Mom is sad about Grandpa?”

“Grandpa is Mom’s dad, you have to remember. Like I am your dad. She’s going to be sad for a while.”

“How long?”

“I’m not sure. We just need to be patient. She’s going to be doing some soul-searching the next few months, and maybe longer.”

“Okay,” I said, half understanding what he meant.


Later that same day, Dad drove me home from school. When we got in, Mom was at the kitchen table, observing a Bluebird that was perched on a limb dangling from an oak tree in front of our picture window.

“Hi Shaney Shane,” she said, turning her attention to us.

“Hi Mom, guess what? My teacher told me at school today that humans are actually animals — just like bears and whales.”

“That’s cool honey! And true too!”

“Are you sad about Grandpa?”

“Yeah, Shane, I am. He was a good, good man. You know what I always say about his big ol’ heart, don’t you? It ought to have its own zip code.”

I nodded, but I didn’t know what else to say, so I just asked Dad if I could go watch TV in the den.

“Sure, for a half hour, and then we can go over your times tables. I’m gonna talk to Mom for a while.”


Mom began driving us to school again a few day later and things mostly returned to normal. The one exception was that she spent much more time at her computer in the bedroom than she ever did before. From time to time, she would set me up in front of the TV, or with a crafts project, and disappear without explanation.

One time, Dad came home from work and finished an art project with me. We made puppets out of brown paper bags. Dad made a robber, and I made a cop.

As I was arresting Dad’s puppet for littering, we heard a loud “ping” sound from upstairs. It sounded like someone had slapped the computer screen or tossed something at it. Dad went to check on Mom, and I heard them talking quietly, then Mom crying softly, and finally silence.

Mom came out ten minutes later and said: “are you ready for dinner? We are getting pizza!”


In February of 2006, Grandpa made a photographic appearance at my Bar Mitzvah. It happened during my candle lighting ceremony, a time during the reception when the Bar Mitzvah boy honors family members and special friends by inviting each one up to help him light a candle. Our family friends, the Sorens, came up to light one, as did my pregnant Aunt Sheila and her then-boyfriend, Hal, and a number of others. In the midst of these photos, my mom suddenly approached me and whispered into my ear.

“I’d like you to take a photo by yourself, just you lighting this next one.”

I did as I was told, not thinking about what I was doing or why. Probably because my first crush was watching me with Bambi eyes fifteen feet away at the table where I had placed her — mine, of course.

In the photo album my parents later paid to have prepared, my grandfather found his way into that photo op. In our living room as she showed off the contents to my aunt and Dad, Mom explained that she wanted so badly for Grandpa to be a part of my special day. Her eyes found Dad’s as she said this. We all waited for her to say something more.


A few months after my Bar Mitzvah, Mom got another phone call from Aunt Sheila that turned her to frantically whispering like she had when she got the news about Grandpa. This time, though, she didn’t leave the room, and after some time, I could see a look of disgust form on her lips. Her volume began to pick up too, so that I could hear everything shooting out of her mouth.

“He can’t do this to you.”

“That’s not an excuse, Sheila.”

“He’s the goddamn father. Or has he forgotten that?”


A day after Aunt Sheila gave birth, we were seated around the dinner table chowing down on my mom’s Swedish meatballs, the rare dish she made that we all, my mother included, genuinely loved.

“I want to help with Marc,” she suddenly announced.

“I’m worried about her, being alone with her first. I’m gonna see if she wants me to stay with her for a week or two.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” responded Dad, and he turned toward me.

“We’ll be okay here, right Shane?”

“Sure, I’ll take good care of Dad. I’ll make sure he doesn’t go to sleep past his bedtime. Don’t worry, Mom.”

We all laughed.


Grandpa began appearing in fewer and fewer photos during this time. However, he popped up here and there just when you thought he was gone forever.

There was the time Dad and I decided to surprise Mom at Aunt Sheila’s place, where she was helping to care for my baby cousin.

It was a Saturday in December in the early afternoon. There was a strong wind that day, and the sun was nowhere to be seen. I sprinted from our parked car and rang the bell. Dad was still getting something out of the trunk. A few moments later, Aunt Sheila opened the door with my cousin Marc in a pouch across her chest.

“Shane, you’re here! Mom’s in the next room. Go see her! She’ll be psyched.”

I pushed open the slightly ajar French doors just wide enough to enter the den, where my mom was staying. Mom was seated with her back to me in front of the desktop computer, unaware of my presence. I somehow knew immediately what she was doing. A few months before my Bar Mitzvah, I had figured it out.

On the screen was a picture opened in Photoshop of a barbeque in our backyard a few months before in the fall. The image, snapped by my dad, showed Mom and my aunt as they reclined in patio chairs and drank pina coladas. Standing to the right of Aunt Sheila and set back a ways was my grandfather, his hand on his hip and an almost invisible series of dashes going all the way around him. As he peered toward the fence that separated our backyard from the house just behind us, he wore a serene expression, as if looking out on a pristine alpine lake that only he was able to see.


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My anxiety and I go home

Last week when I went back to New York

after a very long time

I was good

I saw my friends and their new babies

my face birthed stupid, wonderful grins

I made apologies for not going to weddings

and meant them

I went to places that made me uncomfortable

I didn’t fake a single stomach ache 

I rarely lied

I spoke to my brother, and it felt normal.

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The Gift

Gram sits beside me in the stationary elephant-gray Camry that used to belong to her. It’s her 85th birthday.

“Do you know where you are and who I am?” I ask, checking in.

“Of course, we’re in a vacant parking lot. And you’re my grandson, Josh.”

Josh is my older brother. Close enough.

She grins.

“I’m going to drive.”

Trading in her grin for a look of jaw-clenched concentration, Gram then gives the car a little too much gas and we fly off about fifteen feet before she applies the brake.

“Just nudge the pedal Gram, and press more lightly than you think you should,” is my advice, and I can hear my father in my voice.

“Are you ready to try again?”


This time, it’s a smooth departure. We pick up a little speed, avoiding the empty parking spaces, and the Camry remains on the cruising path. Gram’s expression softens some.

After we cruise the entirety of the parking lot a handful of times, I check in again.

“Grandma, how’s it going?”

“Fine, Josh, but would you like to go anywhere?” she queries, eyes still on the vanishing concrete in front of her.

“No sense in driving around here all day.”

“Well, we really shouldn’t leave,” I answer, avoiding eye contact.

“Nonsense. I insist, boy. Let’s go somewhere.”

I don’t have the heart to speak the word “no,” but I stay firm.

Gram slows the car to a stop. Puts it in park without glancing down at the gear shifter. She looks square at me. Her ears are glowing red.

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when I die

When I die I want everyone to own a piece of me. I don’t care if you think it’s disgusting. Deal with it. I’m the one dead here. You know what’s worse than having my right arm on the mantel? Being dead. But who to give my head? My friend Tom who writes horror stories in his spare time? No, even he wouldn’t have the stomach. Maybe my uncle — yeah he’d enjoy the company. I always assumed he had a few lying around the house anyway.

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When his father died, Kyle discovered a dark brown locked box tucked away on an eye-level shelf in the garage. A post-it note with his own name written on it clung to it. It wasn’t until he had tried five different four-letter combinations that he finally realized that the paper with his name was both a note as well as a combination.

He was mystified, but not surprised. The boy was always aware that his father had secrets. For as long as he could remember, the man had been escaping to the garage for about an hour a day. No one knew what he did in there, or more accurately no one cared. As long as he emerged eventually to eat dinner with his family, Kyle’s mother never made a fuss. She assumed the man was working on the car, or tinkering with a gadget.

Upon opening the box, Kyle saw an object the size of a bouncy ball. Sketched onto the ball was a map of some sort of world. There were two distinct yellow swaths of land separated by what he imagined was a great pink ocean. At a loss for what this object could be, he simply put it away in his pocket to be discovered anew.

From there, the object bounced around between different locales, eventually ending up, more or less, where Kyle had originally found it: in the garage, atop a table where he now kept his lego creations.

Over time, Kyle began noticing that the contours of the continents were changing ever so slightly. One stretch of coastline was now jagged where it used to be smooth. Another was smooth where it used to be jagged. And so on.

The boy thought it could be his eyes deceiving him. He also could swear he detected the most subtle of movement as he stared at the object for long periods of time.

He couldn’t fully explain why he did what he did next. Placing a stool on the floor, Kyle reached up to the highest shelf to get the microscope his father had purchased him for his eight birthday. The next thing he did was to put the ball under the scope, and that’s when he saw them.

They looked very much like dots. There were two kinds of them. Red and blue. The red dots occupied one continent, and the blue ones the other. In between them, of course, was the pink ocean, which was both very large and very small depending on who was looking. There were a small amount of red dots on the continent where all of the blues resided, but on the red’s continent there were no blue dots.

Every day the boy came home and watched through the microscope. And every day there were a few more red dots scattered along the coast of the blue’s continent.

Just as his father had done, the boy told no one about this tiny world, not even his mother.

He began thinking long and hard about why his father had gifted this object to him.

Perhaps the man had not known about the dots. Perhaps, a secret such as this one was one that should be guarded by a single being.

Kyle began thinking about his own world. Did his own universe have a guardian to make sure they never fell into the wrong hands?

A few weeks later, Kyle noticed one blue dot on the red continent. He looked hard at this dot. He wanted to know more. He thought if he stared hard enough he might make out some movement. But the truth was he never could.

After many months of looking, there still remained only one red dot on the blue continent. It made the boy sad.

Weeks later, he observed a new development. The number of red dots on the blue continent had diminished. The boy had been keeping track of the two populations ever since he registered the changes months before.

Now, there were 6 less, the boy saw. The population of reds on the blue continent went from 55 to 49. Thinking these reds went back to the red continent, he counted to see if they had gained two more red dots. They had not.

Four weeks later, 5 more vanished. And then 2 more after that. And then the boy cried when he found that the single blue dot on the red continent had vanished as well.

All of this made the boy think of the Revolutionary War his teacher was currently discussing in school. Sometimes, he imagined the blues and reds were the Americans and the British, respectively. In his head, these dots were two populations that were in the midst of some kind of conflict. And for all he knew perhaps they were. Perhaps, they were beings occupying this tiny world.

The next time the boy looked through the microscope he could see 65 reds on the pink ocean, heading for the blue continent.

After seeing this development, the boy began a nasty habit of pulling out hairs from the top of his head.

One month after, the blue population diminished to 248 from 311, while the 65 reds were now 40. Noting this, the boy instinctively moved his hand to the top of his head, where he had made a small, but noticeable bald spot.

The Boy who Guarded a World

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A light on in the kitchen 4:30 A.M.

A light on in the kitchen 4:30 A.M.

once meant Dad in his gray sweats

cracking eggs into a glass bowl

fretting he’ll rouse Mom as

the pan rustles awake


nowadays, a light on in the kitchen 4:30 A.M.

something to extinguish in the morning.

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My brother’s piece, “A House”

My brother wrote a piece called “A House.” It’s a short collection of flashes that I quite like, and it was published by Word Riot a few years ago. Thought I’d share. Enjoy!

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A Pair of Black Garbage Bags

At 2 am

Mom woke us up in the middle of the night

gave my brother and I a pair of black garbage bags

“Put as much winter clothing as you can fit inside these bags, when you run out of warm clothes, you can begin with the toys,

then meet me downstairs.”

this was not the first time we were given this instruction

so Edgar and I basically knew how to proceed

but it was never easy

Edgar was only 6 and he had great trouble accepting

that he would have to give up an action figure

in place of a sweater

a nebulizer in place of a lite-brite

when we were done,

we headed downstairs

where our mom held out her arms to both of us and we all huddled together

Dad had not beaten her up in a number of years but Mom still made us move every time

she spotted his car in the towns we lived

he didn’t approach us anymore

it was as if he just wanted to be in the vicinity

I had seen him a handful of times from the backseat of Mom’s car

in Temecula, he was helping some people move a sofa into their apartment

in Tahoe, he was putting on someone’s snow chains on the side of the road

in Spokane, he was up on a ladder working on a faulty street light

when I was little

he seemed like a pretty nice guy to do these things

but mom said

he wasn’t doing it out of kindness

it was how he “stayed afloat”

the night she told me this

I dreamt my dad was on a busted-up oil freighter on the high seas

running around patching up all of the holes

just as he plugged one another would open

“Boys we are going north to Canada —

what do you know about Canada?” asked mom.

“The capital is Ottawa.” I said.

“It’s cold,” added Edgar.

“Very good.”

“Will there be snow, Mama?” queried Edgar.

“More snow than you can imagine in that little mind of yours.”

There was a big smile on Edgar’s face now

and my mother made her face look like his once she spotted it

“Mom why can’t we go back to Los Angeles where it’s warm?,” I ventured to ask.

“You know we can’t ever go back there, hijo.”

I did, but it didn’t stop me from asking the question every time.

“Okay mis hijos, my loves. Time to go.”

And then the three of us went out into the cold

or what we considered cold

because a lot of what I thought I knew back then

we left behind in that house.

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