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What Mother Thinks

“She has the face of a goat.” “Isn’t that a little unkind? You know, she has a quite beautiful spirit.” “Just make sure she wears a turtleneck and a very large hat if you ever take her anywhere important. Maybe a scarf. That is, if you ever do take her anywhere important which I bet you probably won’t. In your heart, you know she has the face of a goat. I’m only saying what you’re thinking. You remember, don’t you, that I know what you’re thinking.” “When she smiles, she’s beautiful.” “No. She just becomes a smiling goat.” “There are worse things, mother, than a smiling goat.” “You will have…

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Time in a Bottle

That’s my brother on the bed, being a new baby in the afternoon, the afternoon’s sunlight softly sprayed across my parents’ bedspread. He is waking from a nap and because he is their first baby and still new, my mother calls for my father to fetch the camera. It’s the light that she loves. It’s…

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On Doing What’s Normal When Things are Turning to Shit

Normal has an extraordinary glow of comfort when things are turning to shit. Normal is your mother’s hand on your cheek. Normal is the blanket of your youth pulled up to your neck, your head deep in billowy pillows that only this morning seemed due for replacement. Normal is precious, rich, unique, a reward for suffering long or short. When something terrible happens, we want normal. It might be just one fine thing that is normal while all around cascades terrible, freakish, unbelievable things but if this one normal thing can occur, then we can settle down, rest, and stop careening around, a BB in a bare room. This morning’s paper detailed the criticism…

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Tap, Tap, Tap

Tap, tap, tap. I pull the blanket tighter around my shoulders. Tap, tap, tap. The house is silent now, the whispered screaming over. Tap, tap, tap. He’s sorry now that he scared me. Tap, tap, tap. Do the downstairs neighbors know that he is lying on the floor in the back hall and tapping on my door? Tap, tap, tap. I put my face in my hands. This night will never be over. He will never leave. I stand up, put my hand on the wood door, finger the places that the paint is peeling, caress the door as if it is a child or a favored pet. I kneel and…

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Be Quiet

Does shooting down a civilian passenger jet and killing 298 people become a more terrible act because a third of those people were AIDS researchers whose work had probably saved the lives of millions of people? No, people’s lives are equal. Yes, some people are more equal than others. This morning’s news carried information about the visitation and service for the 10-year old Milwaukee girl who recently died of gunshot wounds received in May while she was playing at her neighborhood playground, an obituary for the 20-year old son of a community activist who was shot last week, taken off life support during the weekend, his family having made the decision…

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College Roommate

It seemed so wrong to tell her that I’d looked up her boyfriend like she’d asked and that somehow more had happened than she’d planned because telling her would make everything different, would tell her she couldn’t trust me anymore, we wouldn’t be smiling or doing each other’s hair, her wings would grow larger and…

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Taking Care of the Weeds

My mother’s parenting advice to me was succinct and a hair disappointing. “Children are like weeds. If you leave them alone, they grow up.” There it is. Straight from the Less is More School of Parenting. Having heard this more than once while I was growing up and pretty much using this as my fundamental…

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No Waves

Lately I’ve taken to asking people if they’re happy. We’ll be having a pretty normal conversation and I’ll blurt out, “Are you happy?” I’m not sure why this has become the question du jour. Today I was having lunch with a friend and he seemed to me to be not happy and so I asked him the question. As it turns out, there was just a part of his life that he wasn’t happy with but the rest was fine. So the job was a headache and unfulfilling but what he did with the rest of his life was okay. Not fabulous, but reliably okay. He didn’t seem exactly taken…

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What’s Fair Game?

An essay I wrote about a former lover is being published in an anthology called Precipice. In the essay, I use the person’s actual first name because, when I wrote it, no other name seemed a good substitute. And the story I told isn’t a flattering one, really about either of us. It’s about him engineering a visit to see me more than thirty years after our relationship ended and showing up in a way that just dripped of expectation that I had been waiting all that time, instead, I guess, of getting married and having a lot of children and pursuing a career and doing the things people do…

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Orbiting Zorkon: Gun Violence in Milwaukee

The parts of our city where all the shootings go on has become another planet. We orbit reluctantly, wishing that something sunnier was our gravitational force. Not violence and death and children dying on playgrounds because two young men made each other angry. Today a 10-year old girl who was just playing at the playground in her neighborhood in the middle of the day on May 21st died from gunshot wounds suffered when she somehow got caught in the crossfire between two young, very angry men. If there’s a sadder story than this one with the bereft parents, the young men certain to live their lives out in prison, and…

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