Song of the Rail Wheels

There is a lot to be said about being a kid,

a lot has been said…

there is a lot to be said about nostalgia

a lot has been said…

Lying on your stomach, propped up

(More power to your elbows)

something about the top couchette of a train car

ta da ta da ta da – the song of the rail wheels….

My mom never thought it was safe for a kid to sleep

At that height

And all I wanted was some height

Some different perspective from the one she has given me.

Continues to give…

Ta da ta da ta da

Grass flying by so fast its an-etch-a-sketch grass as opposed to


Occasional tree joins the blurry dotted sketch

Only to be erased by the race and the song of the wheels

ta da ta da ta da

“Mom, do twenty-seven-minutes go slower if you watch them go?”

(Only my grandfather’s old watch to play with)

“Stop wasting time and read or …” she says from the bottom couchette

and part of me wished she didn’t say anything.

Is watching time really the same as wasting it?

You Rescued Me From a Rat

I dreamt that you rescued me from a rat

In a nameless hotel, somewhere in the center of an equally nameless town.

You and I, notwithstanding the rat, is a rare instance in itself…

I whine, frown, beg for help

In all my proximity to you that, incidentally, does not exist in any town that bears a name.

I warn you, kind reader, the details will be limited…

After all, none of this actually happened.

I dreamt it, memorized having previously imagined it with great care, i wrote –

You rescued me from a rat….

Another disappointing side note (should have really been included as preface)

The rescue was utterly unromantic

As is our entire thread of communication – connection of the digital age.

As you and I age, something remains timeless.

You are oh-so-fortunate to be able to blame bad memory,

(or to have wished your good one away.

Remember, Plato and his teacher

We are “all fighting a hard battle

Be kind to everyone you meet”)

Sometimes I ask myself if we would, in fact be friends, if I was less sentimental

And you less kind?

I hold on to our, even if coincidentally shared

Memories; cut and pasted

Out of Commercials for Kodak,

The ones that seem far more intent on fishing for tears

Than new customers.

But back to the story of the dream/imagination

Sigmund Freud awakened and paying attention;

You sojourned with your family – new wife and two girls, the oldest – your spitting image.

I was staying alone, with pages upon pages

Of stories to read and ponder…

Sitting on pillow top, on top of the world really, drunken in my happiness to attend

A treat from my subconsciousness – a literary conference.

(Didn’t I warn you about utter lack of romance?)

If only I didn’t always run towards the door…

Amongst other treats was a tidy room, ambition to write and delicious quiet…

But right when I got situated on top of a queen sized bed – a rat scurried across the floor.

Priorities shift and I teleport

(Whose subconsciousness has time for running, no matter how hurried?)

Like I said, i teleported into an endless hallway with stained red rugs

Foreboding some sequence from The Shining

(God, Please not the twins…

Between two (three?) evils, I choose deranged Jack Nicholson.)

But instead of all the gore, I found myself before you, in your quotidian calmness

As though this is just what we always do – I see a rat and appear before you breathless.

What is it now?

You ask and I detect your characteristic combination of pity and sarcasm

Peppered with feigned lack of interest

And again and again I ask myself

Would we still be friends if you were less calm, less tolerant?

Dreams don’t wait for chatty women to finish their thoughts….

You disappeared into my room and next thing I remember

Your girls are playing with the rat,

Your wife increasingly unsure about the new pet…

The rescue is complete.  A friend is made.  My room is set for work.

God knows, a lot of work is left.

But drunken happiness is gone

Perhaps the rat has taken it?


The idea that I may somehow get this under control

And breathe at the rate at which people around me seem to breath


Is not only unattainable its cruel, cruel because I am

wired differently…

From normal.

Days fly so fast that sometimes I feel as though I am holding on to them

As a newly unloved grabbing on to the door-window-any-surface of a car

That is speeding away with the one that is still loved at the wheel.

Please stop.

I ease into my new routine with a stronger, more confident heartbeat than usual

Part of aging, it seems, is accepting that this is it- until

Lack of bad news, unapologetically, becomes good news.


And then the dance between knowing what is right and feeling like, maybe,

All this talk of mortality is just out there to scare us.

How can I not? Breathe-think-obsess-fear-not feel this guilt?

Again, acceptance.

I. Really. Will. Die.

And as soon as these words line up – memento mori – the most basic of all excuses

Then all attempts to not talk to You are in vain;

I try to free myself from rhyme, from its familiar guilt

To set the same boundaries I tried to break over and over again…

You know how it goes…

Sum Licens Solus Fidens

But, my fear is just as certain as my death.

What I feared

Recently I heard someone say that

God was right above Auschwitz

Asking people

What are they capable of?


What I feared most was to find out how

Your life was taken.


I was afraid to turn the page

You were my friend now and enraged

I screamed,

You can’t die at that age.


Obviously I only screamed in my head.

(This emotional cacophony is sincere only at fifteen)


My parents said

I must remember that

We can only afford

A few days of vacation

And Your diary, apparently,

Doesn’t make the best

beach reading.

I cried over your photo…

Trying to juxtapose

Your face against your fate.

While sand, wind and salt water

Had their way with my face.


I learned that it is very easy to cry

On the beach

And remain unnoticed.

And that I am not sure if there is a God.

Blame it on the heat…


What do I do with this restlessness?

And this humidity?

Tugging at fluorescent-green-sleeve of Summer,

I beg – take pity.

If I could choose to be anyone

I would surely choose to be

Razor-sharp-knees French woman

Each week – a different lover

Confident and free.

Your hand somewhere past my breathing

We toy with blur of obligations

This isn’t worth commemoration

This suffocation is for show.

After a hint-of-cool-crisp-air

The heat is back deluding us

That we are and Summer is

to stay.

I am not one to follow directions

I care little about corrections

And grammar too.

Lets be honest I barely speak English

I don’t even like to write

And some of the above is true.

When I showed my poem to

A dear friend

She said that I would make an awesome writer of pop lyrics.

I told her,

When we, women of Balzac age “come in like a wrecking ball”

We first need to catch our breath.

An Epiphany.

“The story of my family. . .changes with the teller.”  ― Jennifer Haigh, Faith

To the real Victor for allowing me to believe in magic. Thank you and Good Night.

The first time I saw forbidden love was when I was about seven – except that I didn’t know that it was forbidden, nor did I know the actual word – was when my older sister took me to work with her.  She was an engineer and one of a few women in the work place.  I brought my book from home and my sister gave me some plain paper with a few pencils in case I wanted to draw.  But I was never much of a self-entertainer.  I wondered around the office trying to match the people I saw to what I had heard at home.  My sister frequently told our mom various stories pertaining to the drama at the office; Mom would be all into it, laughing and asking for specific details, until she would notice me, then, as if on cue, she would fake boredom and tell my sister, “Lara, its not good to gossip.” One of the stories I had heard was about a man named Victor, who seemed to be the most recurring protagonist in my sister’s office gossip.  From what I could put together over the years, Victor was not just the sole inspiration behind “you will not believe what he said today?” but also evoked pronounced pity from my sister and two other women at the office, whom my sister referred to lovingly as ‘my girls’.  Apparently, my sister and ‘her girls’ all felt sorry for him ever since the day his wife came to one of the Christmas Parties at the office.  My sister described her as bossy, incredibly unattractive (“what is he doing with her, Mom?”), and painfully boring.  Lara, also, repeatedly spoke of his sky blue eyes.  I didn’t really see the fascination there, as my sister’s eyes were already bright blue and the need to obsess with something one already possessed seemed silly.

But she was right, it was the blue eyes that I also remember seeing first –  I saw blue eyes, wavy blond hair and my sister’s arms wrapped around his neck.  He was sitting up straight in his office chair with my sister embracing him from the back.  Her arms were crossed on his chest, her hands enveloping his shoulders with a grip different from the way she hugged our parents or I. When he saw me, a mix of surprise and discomfort ran across his face and then I heard my sister’s familiar laughter.  Nobody laughed like my sister.  Still, nobody does.  (A few years ago, while on the phone with one of my on and off friends, I heard a few familiar notes in her laughter and it made me, instantly, forgive everything that caused the off part).  My sister laughed without really letting go of the embrace and said, “Victor, this is my little sister.  She is hilarious.”  She looked down pressing her chin into him,  “And this, is, our Victor, in a blue shirt with blue eyes.” I thought to myself that I might have been hilarious and funny-looking and whatever else, but I didn’t talk in this ridiculous sing-song-y manner about some strange man’s article of clothing and eye-color. I walked out of Victor’s office and read various hand-written notices to staff along the walls (I was very proud of my reading skills and read everything that there was to read); on one of them, I read that my sister was responsible for fire safety in the office and thought – who in their right mind, would entrust other people’s lives to this airhead who collected toy owls and laughed like a hyena?

After a day of unsupervised wondering around the office; too much candy from my sister’s ‘girls’, sitting on various people’s laps, cheeks pinched, and lectures courtesy of my annoyed sister; listless wondering around the office came to an end – I made it home and quickly forgot about the day as all happy children do.

Some years later, my sister got married and moved far away.  She had a little girl named Annabelle who was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.  I know, everyone says this about the first baby that enters their lives.  But Annabelle really was as exquisite as a baby girl could be. She was born with skin that looked as though she just arrived from a week in the Caribbean; brown eyes rimmed with endless lashes and seemed just content to be present. What, after all is beauty, if its not a sense of peace in one’s presence, a sense of comfort with the surroundings and oneself.

According to my enamored sister, she almost never cried and just serenely observed the world around her.  In Annabelle’s first year of life, I only saw her twice.  During one of those two visits, I almost dropped her from the stroller and it immediately became apparent to me that I was no longer my sister’s favorite little girl.   She shot an angry look full of annoyance and agitation, a look I couldn’t believe one could have for a sister one hasn’t seen in over a year…She barked, “Will you be careful, for once?  She isn’t a toy.  Stop showing off with your stupid Hemingway book under your arm, everyone already took note how well read you are.  Put your book away and focus on what you are doing.” The comment about the book stung.  True, I was very proud of being well read.  However, it was especially true, that I did bring “The Old Man and the Sea” on this particular trip to get approval from my sister.  I always carried books and what my sister didn’t know is that I also, always, carried her daughter’s photograph as a bookmark inside the pages of every book that I read.  When I lost Annabelle’s picture during a subway ride to school, my mom said I cried as though we, God forbid, lost real Annabelle.  I had many pictures of my niece since then but never did this attachment to a picture repeat itself.

Why some people feel familiar the first moment you see them, while others remain strangers after decades of friendship or acquaintanceship, is a type of question, that just as some people, is better left alone.  Poking into the metaphysical is satisfying only in theory; in reality it produces hopelessness and depression.  Why do we love people that we aren’t suppose to love is a similar type of question.

I didn’t know that my sister was dying.  I was pregnant with my first child and my parents claimed later that they were afraid for my pregnancy.  But I know that they were afraid for me.  All I was told is that my sister was suffering from depression and I wasn’t supposed to take anything she says personally.  I lived in New York and she lived in Dallas; her husband and I never found common ground and ever since my niece was born our closeness came with six-month interruptions at best.  And yet, in the last two years of her life we spoke almost every day.  How could I not tell that she was gravely ill?

During one of our conversations, she told me of a modernist painting she remembered looking at when she was pregnant with Annabelle.  It depicted a woman in late stages of pregnancy with endless phone wires attaching her head to her stomach.  My sister marveled at the accuracy of the painting.  She said pregnant women see and hear nothing except what goes on inside. She laughed at how silly it is to blame and sue employers for wanting to get rid of pregnant women at the workplace.  Only now, so many years since, did I understand that this wasn’t about employers or women’s rights. Everyday, on the phone, my compassion and focus was tuned in to the life that was forming inside of me not the life that was leaving her.   Last time I spoke with my sister was on her birthday.  It was January 7th,  and we had a typical ‘moody Lara, annoyed me’ type of exchange.  I think I hung up.

While I was spared watching my 39-year-old sister dying, my little niece was a front and center witness to the passing of her mother. A week after Lara died, my niece came to stay with me.  She was strictly instructed to not tell the-ever-so slightly unstable aunt about the passing of her sister.  I wonder what my parents were thinking in their assumption that this little girl was stronger than a new mother in her twenties. Regardless of the overarching age difference, my niece and I have always had a relationship evenly peppered with specks of jealousy.  My sister and I had an unspeakable bond and history long before Annabelle entered this world with her serene brown eyes. As for me, I was well aware of an even stronger unspeakable bond that exists between a mother and her child.  Our interaction for the first twelve years of Annabelle’s life succumbed to constant juxtapositions of experience.  I had known a younger, lighter Lara.  And around me, she had always embraced her goofiness and sang a lot.  Annabelle was jealous of our stories, of endless tales of five-year-old me coming to Lara’s bed in the morning on weekends, when Lara desperately wanted to sleep and tickling her into turning tv on.  We cuddled and watched ridiculously dumb morning shows.  Saturday mornings becoming the only time when I wasn’t ‘the annoying pest’ and she wasn’t the  ‘standoffish hyena.’   We were both drastically different from our parents and other relatives in our zest for life and occasional hysterical agitations.  We both talked non-stop and both believed in magic well into the years when believing in magic is considered a sign of a looming diagnosis at the shrink’s office.  To succumb to a cliché would be to describe us both as dreamers.  We refused to give in to the pragmatic necessities of this life, or as my father puts it, refused to grow up.  Both would easily spend the remaining forty bucks left on checking account, on purchases of the most non-pragmatic quality – some small funky magnets or a silly Shakespeare finger puppet for a random friend.  Our mom, my niece and her father were born knowing how to count money.  My niece, it seems, was also born with an alarm clock.  She is an early riser and an enviably organized person.

When she was in first grade and I came to Dallas for a week long visit, I wanted to read her a chapter from my favorite Judy Blume book; she was very excited and told me to come up at 7:30 right before her bedtime.  I procrastinated playing chess online or talking on the phone or just daydreaming, but when I came to her bedroom, Annabelle pointed at the clock and informed me that I was half-an-hour late and it was now her bedtime.  This unflinching characteristic in a seven –year-old was in stark contrast to seven-year-old me aimlessly wondering around my sister’s workplace seeking entertainment anywhere but inside my own space.

Many years since that day at the office, my thirteen-year-old niece sat next to me on the bed while I breastfed my firstborn, and talked unflinchingly about her mother, as though she was still alive.  It is those three days that are so hard to forgive myself for. I breastfed my child for what seemed like hours and my niece sat next to me for what seemed like hours.  Blessed or cursed with an ability to keep things inside, to entertain herself, to entertain me, mere seven days after she lost her mother.  Armed with my realization that Annabelle’s only crime had been that she was different from Lara and I, that she, in fact, wasn’t a robot, a cold pragmatist, a machine (particularly hurtful term my father used to describe Annabelle and her dad), I grew to get attached to the actual girl and not merely her a snapshot of her as a six-month-old.  As our relationship slowly transformed from mere competitiveness for who was, in fact, closer to Lara to a relationship of our own, we became comfortable enough to talk about the person that we competed over.  If time doesn’t heal all wounds, at the very least it conceals the rawness of the pain, so that the wound can be carefully touched.  I asked Annabelle about my sister’s last months, years after my sister was no longer here.  Annabelle talked a lot, she needed to talk a lot; I listened and didn’t listen… until she mentioned that my sister was in and out of consciousness for the last two months of her life and at one point forgot Annabelle’s name and called her Nadia.  I was about to repeat the only thing there was left to repeat, “Sweetie, I can’t imagine how much it hurt, how much all of it hurt…” When, my niece interrupted me and said that she had grown accustomed to this by then and that she was far more disturbed by her mother’s insistence that she, Annabelle, in fact had a brother.  Lara, coming in and out of the world that was about to swallow her whole, begged my niece to find her brother, she said his name was Alexander and he was only a few years older than Annabelle.  My niece asked her father and was told that when cancer spreads to one’s brain, one is no longer immune to believing things that have neither merit nor truth.

The moment when pictures in one’s mind – pictures made up of observations, overheard stories and snapshots of forgotten memories connect- is called an epiphany; the moment when I connected my sister’s plea to her small daughter to find her brother felt less like an epiphany and more like I fell through the ice.  My sister’s crying behind a glass door.  My father yelling at her at the bottom of the stairs that she is to quit being naïve or life will whip her even harder.   My sister’s bandana on her defiant forehead and screaming that she doesn’t have to live with my parents if they can’t accept the man she loves. My mom’s plea to accept that he has children, a wife, responsibilities, that he won’t leave his wife, that he is merely using her.  And me, years later, barely pregnant lying on the bathroom tile, exhausted from morning sickness that lasted into each afternoon, evening and night, dialing my sister….And her, telling me of two very different pregnancies….that being pregnant with a boy was different…that one time she barely managed to jump out of the bus before vomiting all over herself in the street…Victor’s blue eyes and look of discomfort when I walked into his office…  Lara must have been over four months pregnant to know with stubborn certainty that it was a boy…   My memories of snuggling with my sister on Saturday mornings had been shot through in a continuous, uninterrupted cinematic sequence. My goofy, lighthearted sister with a laugh that could wake up a log sleeping half a mile away, held on to her baby sister every weekend morning, while brewing the strength to terminate a life of a child, and say goodbye to the man she loved.   She must have succeeded in closing that compartment up until her own life was slipping away from her she hadn’t tried to reconstruct the pieces of the past.  But her pleas to Annabelle to find her brother ring with a final, excruciating attempt to validate a love and a life she almost lived.

2AM Photo

I don’t exactly wake up from the sound of the phone, but rather my husband’s elbow in my stomach.  “How many times do I need to ask you to turn your phone off before you go to bed?”  He shoves me to my side of the bed, towards my bedside table with a flickering phone on top of it, like a beacon in the darkness of our small bedroom.  I know my husband isn’t an angry guy, he just doesn’t want to wake our four-month-old and have to try to sleep to the sounds of crying baby. I quickly put the phone on silent and habitually tap the fluorescent green Messages window on my iPhone.  

At first, my groggy mind isn’t quite sure what I am looking at, but then I snort loudly trying to contain my laughter and get shoved in my stomach once again.  “Will you turn this damn thing off and stop radiating my head?” 

I stick my head under the comforter and zoom in on the picture of my old neighbor Xander.  In the snapshot, he is wearing my brother’s old baseball cap that says Goofy (quite appropriately!) above the velcro, that the latter left during one of his visits home.  How did it end up on Xander’s head? I try to think back to the last time he and my brother interacted?  And the last time he and I interacted?…

 Anyway, he is wearing a cap backwards as well as the very apparent blue eye shadow, generous strokes of blush and pink lipgloss.  Because its 2AM, i think even slower than I have already been thinking ever since the influx of hormones from my fourth pregnancy.  Why is Xander wearing makeup and my brother’s baseball cap?  Why did he send me this picture in the middle of the night? 

For a second I think that maybe he decided to come out of the closet, the way I accidentally forced my friend Jordan to come out in high school.  We were all at a big Thanksgiving dinner at Jordan’s house – my mom, her boyfriend, my brother with his first wife, me and my then boyfriend Drake with his mom, Drake’s cousin Jordan, his parents and some more relatives I can’t recall… I was quite sure that Jordan was gay and even more sure that it was common knowledge.  He was seventeen, gorgeous and showed absolutely zero interest in all the slutty girls in our high school that were throwing themselves at him. He dressed with an effortless cool, was neater than our school principal and knew every Madonna song by heart.  When my boyfriend’s mom, Jordan’s aunt, asked Jordan why he wasn’t playing football for our high school – “You have the looks and the physique, hun..” I blurted out  without pausing to think (unfortunately, I never outgrew this habit) – “Yeah, J, why not? Imagine all those dreamy Seniors tackling you to the ground.”  Jordan chocked on whatever he just put in his mouth, gave me an evil stare and quickly left the table.  As everyone got silent, I wanted to stick my foot in my mouth and choke on it to change the focus, but it was too late.  When i think back to it, however, I don’t even think my stupid comment was that obvious, but clearly Jordan wasn’t ready for these type of pronouncements or jokes.  Neither were his parents. 

But back to Xander..  Did he decide to come out to me at 2AM?  But the more i stared at the picture, the less oxygen I had under the new thick comforter that we just got at Kmart last week, the more I wished i could say that all this rouge and ridiculous make-up made him look less manly or less brute…

He and I became friends when we were ten.  I started fifth grade and he was the new kid that year.  He was athletic and very funny;  popular with the girls, so for a while, I didn’t approach him.  I was always easily intimidated by popularity.  Towards the middle of the year our class went on our annual field trip – to an ice-skating rink.  While my friend Sarah and I were holding on to each other, desperately trying to stay upright, she pointed out that he was looking at me.  I wanted to be half as cool as the other girls he hung out with, so I inquired: “What are you staring at?”  He shrugged and skated off.  

Back on the school bus he plopped right next to me before Sarah could say a word in protest.  “Your mom is really nice,” he said, and I found out that his older brother was in my mom’s class at the technical school down the street from our house, where my mom held her second job to pay for the house after my dad left us.  I don’t remember what else we talked about that day but our friendship progressed.  We walked to school and from school and sat together at lunch.  Sometimes he carried my backpack and at other times he hit me on the head with it.  We usually went to his house to do homework but ended up playing board games on top of an old wooden storage cabinet, so his younger brother Finn couldn’t get to us and steal all the game pieces.   When we got sick of board games we got more adventurous.  Sometimes, we jumped from the top of the storage cabinet across the room onto his sofa bed.  One time Xander missed, hit his head on the metal bed-frame and ended up in that same bed for three weeks with a severe concussion.  And it wasn’t even his first concussion, as he was proud to announce in class, three weeks later. Two years prior to the jumping incident, he slipped while blatantly ignoring the stupid sign “No Running” at the kiddie pool at the Y, rattled his brains quite a bit against the old cracked tile and ended up in the hospital for a while. 

 For three weeks, I brought him homework every afternoon but mostly stories of what happened at school while he was missing all the fun. I lay next to him for what seemed like an eternity, we were eleven, have been best friends for almost two years, and it didn’t seem awkward, except one time.  While watching some old movie on the vcr his dad only  let him have in his room for the time that he was on bed rest, we fell asleep.  When we woke up, his mom was standing over us saying that it was very late and time for me to go home.  I felt as though I was caught doing something wrong, I just wasn’t quite sure what it was.  Other than that aforementioned moment that as a child, I desperately tried to erase from my memory; I would shudder nervously when it would creep back up to the forefront of my recollection of memorable recent events; the three weeks on his sofa with as much potato chips as we wanted and more movies than we have seen in the entire year prior were nothing but unabashed joy (at least to me, as I was not the one with a severe concussion).

 And then I remembered.  Four summers ago, when Gaby was only 2 and my husband and I took her and our older son and drove down to the Outer Banks for a week in August. My brother came there too with his daughter, he and his third wife were on the brink of divorce, and we shared a small house in Corolla right on the beach.   We ran into Xander during our second night there while scanning the menu at the door of one of those seemingly plain looking restaurants that end up costing a fortune because they are the hidden treasure of the islands that are not so hidden anymore.  Gaby was crying because she missed her nap, and because my husband and I had a big fight in the car on the way to dinner, and it always took her a long time to calm down.  It still does.  Last week, her first grade teacher told her that she can’t chase boys during recess because its unladylike and because it will make boys not like her, she cried from 11am until the time I picked her up.  Her teacher, Mrs. B, told me that I need to show her to a specialist, because no normal child can cry for three hours because of a meaningless comment.  But, anyway, Gaby was crying and my husband was trying to read the menu and decide whether or not we will have enough money to last through the remaining 5 days if we eat at this particular establishment.  Then I turned around and saw Xander and a skinny blonde woman in a lime spaghetti-strap dress with a white cardigan neatly thrown over her shoulders.  My first thought was that I don’t remember last time I wore white.  My second thought was interrupted with Xander’s arms around me – “Quit stalking me, T” – he laughed loud in my ear and pressed me just long enough for me to realize he smelled the same, a cocktail of hay thats been out in the sun too long, oranges and childhood.  He always called me T, even though I always thought that Tina is already short enough.  We had dinner and went home to put Gaby to bed. 

 That night my husband and my son watched Mighty Ducks on tv, while I washed the dishes and thought of a night in November when I was walking home from school and ran into Xander holding Ellie’s hand.  I didn’t expect it to feel the way it did, because it was he first time I felt this proverbial ground disappear below my feet…I struggled to find my balance and when I did, I asked them how they were doing?  Ellie looked beautiful.  Her cheeks were flushed from the November cold and the lack of warm clothing.  She was wearing a tight black hoodie unzipped, revealing a white fitted t-shirt with some perfectly sparkling design and great jeans that I only ever saw in teen magazines.  Everyone knew that Ellie was ‘experienced’ with boys.  There was even gossip that she got her experience from her mom’s second husband.  But to this day, I hope it was only jealousy fueling the imagination of my classmates, and not real events.  

After that November day, Xander and I saw each other less and less. I ran into him with various girls and in various compromising positions and after a while I stopped noticing it as much.  Only that November evening got imprinted, perhaps, because my mom couldn’t afford warm clothes that year, but I wasn’t cool enough to go around without them like Ellie, and who was I kidding, my mom would never let me…long story short, my mom bought a long winter coat from our 45-year-old neighbor Anne. There they were – impeccably dressed, holding hands and there I was – in Anne’s old grey coat that reached all the way to the ground but couldn’t hide me from the pain.  My mom never did find out why i cried all night in my room and why i never again wore that coat no matter how much she threatened to ground me indefinitely. 

 Towards the end of our week in Corolla, my husband and my brother invited Xander and his wife to our rental house for some drinks; a small goodbye gathering to celebrate the end of our vacation and a big reason to drink which neither my husband nor my brother could ever refuse.  The house was tiny, space limited and the louder the men got the more scared were the kids.  I sympathized because I very well remembered that long before my dad left, he used to drink and behave in a way that frightened five-year-old me without really giving any reason, other than the fact that he acted differently that the dad i knew.  Girls are always more sensitive and more easily frightened, so I gave Gaby and my brother’s daughter my makeup case to distract them from the drunken state of their fathers.  I don’t remember how Xander ended up as the Gaby and her older cousin’s first client but he ended up lying on the floor while a toddler and a kindergartener were applying his makeup. My brother’s daughter said that he needs to gel his hair back so he looks like a beautiful girl, which is when Xander’s patience ran out and he said, “Enough girls, let me talk to grownups for a bit.”  I didn’t want Gaby to start her wailing so I took the cap off of my brother’s head and placed it backwards on Xander’s head.  I was stunned at how manly he looked with all this make up on, his features were blatantly staring at me reminding me of everything that pulled me back to my childhood, when no one woke me up six times in one night and when I thought that I will grow up and be famous.  He was beautiful – strong and so familiar.  I held back my breathe but must have been very obvious because I noticed that he was looking directly at me.  I thought that I shouldn’t have had that second glass of Asti because I was seeing things.  I don’t remember how Xander and I ended up alone in the kitchen, but there we were and it was just us, not counting the loud commotion just a thin wall away.   He walked towards me and I thought he would ask me if I ever regretted not being with him, the way beautiful, glossy haired heroines always get asked in the end of sappy romantic films, my husband and I sometimes see at the cinema on Fridays when our neighbor agrees to watch the kids….But he didn’t say anything.  He put his entire hand on my hair and firmly pressed against my head.   He moved his hand down along the length of my hair and played with the strands for a mere second before stepping back as we both heard footsteps.  

 I didn’t know that someone took a picture of him that day.  And a blurry closeup too.  He is staring right in the phone camera, his brown eyes laughing and piercingly intense at the same time.  It must have been his wife who took the picture because I doubt my brother or my husband would text him the shot, as neither is big on texting.  

I turn off my phone.  I think off putting it on airplane mode, but am worried that the light will wake my husband and baby.  The comforter is no longer over my head and I can breathe.  The air feels cold against my overheated face and shoulders.  I must have been starved for oxygen because i just lose myself in this sensation for a while and think about how little we value things that are basic and given and always right here, just like this fresh cool air…