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Bad hair days.

“Selling hope. That’s all the beauty business is.”
– Comer Cottrell, 1931-2014. Founder of Pro-Line Corporation, which produced hair-care products for African-Americans.

Hope came in a box that was about half the size of a shoe box. On its glossy exterior was a color photo of a little African-American girl about my age, maybe seven or eight years old. Her skin wasn’t dark like a Hershey bar, but more like the Swiss Miss hot coca Mami prepared for me with lots of milk: creamy and smooth. Her teeth were as white as the mini marshmallows I ate straight from the cocoa packet. The little girl was black, but pretty enough to be on that box. Prettiest of all was her hair. Black, like mine, but smooth. Cut just above her shoulders, the ends rounded softly under. She even had bangs, straight over her forehead, ending right above her eyes, the ones that looked right at me from her smiling face on the box. Did she smile to taunt me, triumphant that she, a little black girl, una negrita, had what I wished, hoped, and prayed for? I decided that no, she smiled at me precisely because she understood my want and was willing to share the magic that would make my wish come true.

It was the late 1970s and the box held hope for good little girls like me with bad hair. My hair wasn’t as bad as the black girls who lived in my projects. Their wooly hair, pasa as Mami called it, had to be twisted, coiled or braided, and weighed down with multicolored beads or ponytail holders, so many mini plastic bits that click-click-clicked when they jumped double Dutch.

My hair was better than that, but there were no black girls in Most Precious Blood, so my hair was the worst in my Catholic school. There was only one other little Latina girl there; her family was from Mexico and she had black hair as glossy and straight as little Cindy Yun’s hair. The three of us were the exotic ones, not Eastern European nor Italian nor Irish, our faces different among those framed by brown and blond shades of hair that was straight, some wavy, a few even curly, but pretty curls like Cindy Brady. Even the two other different little girls had hair that moved in the slightest breeze, strands too limp and textureless to hold barrettes. My hair was so thick and tightly kinked that hair pins were lost and held hostage in there until my mother performed the weekly Saturday hair taming ritual.

The ritual began in the early morning, when mami dressed my hair with mayonnaise (rumored among Puerto Rican ladies in the know to have hair-smoothing powers), which I had to let sit for one hour before she rinsed my head with super cold water. Then she lathered and scoured my head with a vengeance that didn’t expel any kink-causing demons from my hair but did threaten to dislocate my head from my little girl neck. She located and disentangled all knots with a fine-toothed comb before another cold rinse, followed by an application of conditioner, a final cold rinse, and then she wrung my hair like the string mop to remove excess water before setting.

It was punishment to be handled so roughly but also to be confined indoors until my hair was dry. If I complained enough, my mother would tell me Vete, go outside then and stop being so malcriada. But how could I be seen with my hair set in giant rollers just like the older ladies at the Laundromat? The little black girls who never let me double Dutch would have certainly beaten me up. So I sat alone in front of the television in our fourth-floor apartment, and could sometimes hear the click-click-clicking from outside.

But there was hope in the box. Kiddie Kit hair relaxer for children, $4.99 at Genovese Drug Store. Such a happy day when I arrived home from school and saw the box on my dresser. Mami had bought it while I was at school and it was an unexpected surprise to find Kiddie Kit next to my music box that held the twirling blond ballerina and the glass-bead rosary I received for my first Holy Communion. The Kiddie Kit box held magic that could accomplish what was beyond the power of prayer. How much of my allowance had been spent to light votive candles at Most Precious Blood Church and yet I still had bad hair? Perhaps it had been a sin to pray for vanity, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be a pretty girl and the secret was to have pretty hair.

The church could keep my quarters and dollar bills. Mami had brought the magic home for $4.99. For the first time, I couldn’t wait for Saturday. With good hair, it wouldn’t matter that the little black girls wouldn’t let me play with them. I would be good enough to play with the pretty girls. I would be a Puerto Rican princess with smooth hair. The magic was in the box.

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Broken but brilliant.

broken glassThe men walked, three and four abreast. They avoided the crates of uncovered bread and small mangoes piled along the curb, but did not yield to my approach. One’s shoulder almost got me in the eye as they plowed past, their progress and foreign jabbering uninterrupted by my presence on the street. Incense burned at the doorway of the shop to my right. The smoke cut through the smell of cumin, car exhaust and body odor in the air. The store and restaurant signs were in the same unfamiliar language spoken by the crowds around me. I looked toward the intersection ahead and at the green sign attached to the light post on the corner. The white letters read Newark Avenue.

Newark Avenue? I knew I was not in the city of Newark. I reached inside my shoulder bag. No map. Shit. I’d left it… home? Likely. And home in relation to Newark Avenue was… somewhere. It couldn’t be far. I hadn’t been outdoors for very long. I had just been walking along, heading…. somewhere. Then realized I did not know where I was, from where I’d come, or to where I was headed.

It always happens without warning. I’m usually prepared: I carry a map or recite in my head the streets I pass so I’ll recognize the names on my return trip. But I hadn’t had an episode in a few weeks. Confidence led to carelessness, which landed me on Newark Avenue without a map or string of street names that could get me back home.

Those moments of getting lost are one of the many frustrations of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. One moment I’m walking along Labert Avenue, wondering what else I need from Rite Aid in addition to antiperspirant; the next, I turn onto Newark Avenue and suddenly I’m wondering where I am, whether I’m in a foreign or home environment, and if a red traffic light means stop or go.

Dr. S assures me that I am not crazy; I am just disassociated from reality at those moments. That sounds like crazy to me, but she’s the professional and I trust her, so I go with it. I call them “episodes” and Dr. S has explained they’re in response to a stressor. Sometimes the trigger is obvious: a hearse parked outside a church reminds me of my baby boy’s funeral, the sound of small children in a park reminds me I’m a barren monster. Other times the episodes come from seemingly out of nowhere. At those time, I feel defeated, like I’ve made no progress in the past six years and I really believe that just being alive is a stressor. Crazy has me firmly in its grip.

I’ve been the “smart one” all my life. My smarts are the one thing I always had going for me. They were my strongest currency that got me out of the projects and into new worlds that were scary and sometimes unwelcoming, but I knew I was smart enough to get anywhere. So who am I now if my mind fails me? There are days that I view my brain as my biggest traitor.

I can’t control my mind. I try to control how I react to my episodes. That was the main inspiration for my “flip it” project that I began in the summer: I turn negatives into positives. I look at the shitty as an opportunity to react in a way that is not frustration, dejection, crumpled defeat or burning rage. This is not an easy task for a glass-always-empty kind of woman like me, but the alternatives are not appealing. I could have cried hysterically that day on Newark Avenue. I certainly was on the verge of tears. I could have stood there, paralyzed by fear, snot running into my mouth as I tried to ask someone for directions to I didn’t know where. Most people might have ignored me. Maybe someone would have tried to be helpful and called a police officer, which would have sent me into full panic mode, likely earned me a trip in a police car or ambulance and landed me in a hospital, the place where I would feel the most panicked and terrorized. Not a good scene.

I thought of Carrie on “Homeland.” She’s broken too; but she’s also brilliant. Her safety systems have failed her. She’s been betrayed by her supports. Carrie ends up in unexpected situations, unfamiliar terrain, but she blends into the scene, puts on a head scarf, navigates the moment by the seat of her pants, relying on her smarts, trusting her intuition and what she knows that she knows.

That day on Newark Avenue, I decided I was on an adventure. My mission was of high importance and classified, a secret even to me. A map would have been a liability if I was detained and questioned. I had to walk all business-as-usual to avoid detection. I wasn’t in the city of Newark or even aware of what city I was in at that moment, but decided it was exotic and foreign. How much more exciting it was to think of myself as a covert operative, and what a let down it was when I turned onto Kennedy Boulevard and the episode ended. I returned to the reality of another day in Jersey City, on my way to Rite Aid to save two dollars on Arm & Hammer antiperspirant.

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Just regular.

comadresThe number in attendance was not huge. I looked around the modest-sized auditorium; it was slightly more than half full early on a Saturday morning. But what mattered most was our presence.

The third annual Comadres & Compadres Latino Writers Conference was held on Saturday, September 27 at Medgar Evans College in Brooklyn. It was my first time at the conference. It was also one of the few times in my life when I’ve attended a professional event where I was not the only brown person. I’m a writer, a woman, and Puerto Rican, so I’m often in the minority due to one or all of those identifiers. As an undergrad at an elite New England college, I felt like the token cocoa-colored model who might appear on every eighth page of the J. Crew catalog. I was the face of diversity in grad school and during my corporate career days: I was usually the only non-white, non-male available to feature in promotional literature about inclusive environments. Being a writer is a lonely gig, and even at residencies, retreats, and seminars, I’ve often been the sole writer of color.

My experience was different on Saturday morning in that auditorium in Brooklyn. I was part of a “we”: no longer a lonely singular, but a member of a community. We didn’t all look the same, share the same mother land, write in the same genre, or speak Spanish with the same fluency (or at all), but we were all of a kind. For me, that means the kind of people who know about playing la loteria, praying to la virgen, or having taken sancocho leftovers to school for lunch. The kind who get references to telenovelas, chisme, and time in el campo without need for translation. The kind who understand about being American, yet being asked if you speak English or being told to go back to where you come from. And we were all the kind who are driven to tell the stories of our experiences from our particular point of view.

It was a relief to not be the only Latina in the room. When I was much younger, those situations made me feel lonely, self-conscious, and that my difference was a liability. I’ve been spoken to loudly and slowly, sometimes not at all, which made me feel misunderstood and out of place. The few times I spoke in those alienating situations, people were surprised and marveled, “Wow, you don’t sound Puerto Rican”, like not fulfilling stereotypical expectations was my greatest achievement.

I knew that being well-spoken and being Puerto Rican were not mutually exclusive, but I began to believe the hype: maybe I was always the only Puerto Rican in those classrooms, auditoriums, and corporate offices of my youth because I was exceptional. Maybe I was better, good enough to be admitted into more exclusive circles where I was recognized with glossy plaques, framed certificates, and pats on the head. Those inanimate acknowledgements were shitty companions that only ever made me feel lonelier: too good to be with “regular” Puerto Ricans, but not good enough to be just regular.

At The Las Comadres conference, I was surrounded by people, mostly women, who were each pretty damn exceptional. Writers, like me, who are committed to their craft, and try to find homes for their work and their professional ambitions—and we are an ambitious bunch of mujeres. I listened to writers pitch novels, children’s books, self-help guides, memoirs, and story collections that deserve to be in mass market bookstores on the shelves of their genre, not just on the “Latina/o” shelf. I attended a panel led by Meg Medina who reminded us that when writing, it’s expected to produce a lot of shit before getting to the good stuff. I sat at Esmeralda Santiago’s table for lunch (!!!!) and had a straightforward, down-to-earth sharing with her and the other amazing Latinas at the table about how to stay motivated, the structure and fluctuations of the writing life, our dreams, and our fears and frustrations.

There were eight of us at that table. There were likely less than 200 attendees at the conference. But like I said, it wasn’t the number that mattered. The important thing was that we were all there, together. No one was any better or any more exceptional than anyone else. I certainly wasn’t. We were all just regular, doing what we do, what all writers do, Latina/o or not.

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Battle gear.

bad ass jeansYesterday on the Brian Lehrer show, Emily Spivack spoke about Worn Stories, her new book that examines how clothes are more than just a fashion statement. Clothes reveal something about who we are and how we wish to present ourselves to the world. The book features photos of public figures accompanied by brief personal essays that explain why a particular personal item of clothing holds deep significance. Lehrer invited listeners to call and share their own stories about an article of clothing they intend to keep forever.

I often refer to my clothes as “vintage from my own closet” because many items have been with me longer than my husband. I have a tendency toward keeping clothes past their prime, and wondered what I might insist be packed to accompany me to the nursing home in my later years. I decided it would be my 30-year-old jeans.

The jeans themselves are not 30 years old. I bought them as a 30th birthday present to myself thirteen years ago. Gap, low rise flare stretch jeans, size 4 ankle, dark rinse once-upon-a-time. I paid full price. For that reason alone I would hold onto the jeans. Gotta make sure I get every last penny of use out of them. It felt indulgent at the time, buying something that was not on sale for myself, but who knew how much longer I’d be a size 4 or be able to wear something current without looking ridiculous? I was turning 30 after all. There was a lot of unknown in the years ahead.

One of the things John and I had planned for our 30s was starting a family. It took six years to achieve a pregnancy that went beyond the first trimester. I remember keeping track of the days after a positive pregnancy test, each one a triumphant step closer to a day when I’d not be able to squeeze into my size 4s. I also remember slipping right back into my jeans after losing pregnancies or after unsuccessful rounds of fertility treatments. My relationship with my jeans was finally interrupted when I became pregnant with Liam in 2007. I began 2008 in the final stretch of pregnancy, sure my size 4s would stay folded in the closet for the rest of the year.

Stillbirth was not something John and I had planned for. Who does? It’s the subject that’s not on the prenatal class agenda. It doesn’t get a dedicated chapter in the pregnancy guides and it’s not common to find a dedicated guide on the shelves of the bookstore. But stillbirth happens. It happened to us. We had arrived at the hospital on a February evening, me in labor and giddy. We left less than 36 hours later with Liam’s death certificate.

We lost more than our baby boy. In the immediate hours, days, weeks after I left the hospital, I increasingly lost the ability to function. Kitchen cabinets, chairs, and my own body were the victims of my hair-trigger rage. I was scared and paranoid: Danger pursued me at all times. I panted constantly, like a dog sensing distant thunder. I was detached from reality, forgetful, often lost in my own building and neighborhood. My body was a trauma site. I wanted to be rid of it, and of my life.

Family and friends were at a loss for words. What was there to say? But they were a regular presence in our home. Uncles and aunts stopped by unexpectedly and regularly with still-warm cookies, homemade pasta sauce, or freshly made soup. My in-laws visited and stayed often, washed countless dishes, took me to lunch out of state, and helped me with crosswords that confounded me. Younger cousins and nieces shared stories of school project triumphs, and knocked each other on the head for telling lame jokes.

My best friend took days from work to be with me. I remember one visit in particular: I stood at the stove and she sat at the kitchen peninsula, watching me.

“It’s good to see you wearing your old clothes so soon.”

The morning of her visit, I had slipped on my Gap size 4 low rise flares without thought. At that point, it had been just over one month since I’d left the hospital. So much had happened and changed, yet the jeans fit like I’d never been pregnant. In my head, I was many things: broken, a monster, crazy, a failure, grief-stricken. But standing there in my kitchen in my old jeans, I was also still Nancy. Nothing, not even I, would be the same again, but the jeans were that first bridge that connected where I’d come from and where I was – and gave me hope that I could reconcile both and recover as a new woman.

My 30-year-old jeans are showing greater signs of wear: they’re whiskered white the length of the seams; the hems are rubbed raw from boots; and the denim in the crotch will soon need patching. I’ll prolong their life through judicious and gentle washing, and air drying. I will wear them, or as much of them that is still left in a few decades, as I’m wheeled into my room at the home. Those jeans remind me I’m bad-ass. I kick ass and when I get kicked and knocked down, I get back up. I’m well past 30 and getting more tattered. Life keeps tearing at me, but I’m a warrior. And those size 4s have been my battle gear.

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Caviar dreams and golden toilets.

I’ll see anything with Philip Seymour Hoffman. The same goes for Liam Neeson, though for different reasons. Both are fine actors, but Liam Neeson is quite fine. He was the reason I paid full price to see “Non-Stop” in a theater. Philip Seymour Hoffman was the reason my husband B and I ventured to the Brooklyn Heights Cinema to see “A Most Wanted Man,” based on the John le Carre novel.

It was a rare summer Saturday that was free of graduations, weddings, birthdays, and barbecues. B and I had decided to indulge with brunch at a diner, a stroll along the Brooklyn Promenade, lite cinematic fare at an independent movie house, and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I am the ultimate multi-tasker, my own worst and relentless task master, and I enjoyed the slowed pace of the day—though it may not have been apparent from the way I panned everything. I’m a glass-half-empty type of woman, so that’s how I roll. I loved watching the easy mix and interaction of humans and canines along the promenade, but the walkway was too short. B and I did a U-turn at the promenade’s end at Pierrepont Place and walked back to where we had entered at Middagh Street. I hate out-and-back loops.

The rain and showers predicted that morning never happened, so B and I crossed the bridge post-movie. The sky was slightly overcast and the slight breeze refreshing in the diffused sunlight. My absorbent fro grew to four times the size of my head from the lingering humidity. Foreigners and locals were awed by the views that had fueled so many of my past runs across the bridge: Liberty Island and Governor’s Island; the iconic skyline of lower Manhattan; the river and its traffic of ferries, sightseeing cruises, sail boats, kayaks, and speed boats. The bridge crossers all around us were marveled but not moved: they stopped short for group photos and selfies, clogged the walkways and bike paths, and interrupted purposeful bridge-crossers like me.

“A Most Wanted Man” was not the type of novel I’d read, but B and I both enjoyed the intriguing, if un-challenging, plot and action. Philip Seymour Hoffman did a fine enough job as the stock male lead typical of those macho books and films: the roguish intelligence (or law enforcement or military) guy who’s scarred by a past mission where his unintended error cost lives. He’s fucked by guilt and the powers that be, and can never forget that one mistake. He might seem cold, distant, an asshole. He’s hard drinking, chain smoking, and inaccessible, but it’s a shield against getting hurt again. Underneath it all, our hero is the one loyal, true guy who will never fuck you.

It was so predictable, I said to B. I could write such boiler plate plots while I sat on the toilet. I thought about it. I could have myself a really nice toilet if I wrote the type of mass market novels that sold at CVS and airports and were adapted for films. I could have a custom-made writing chair, ergonomically correct and designed to accommodate my petite proportions. It could look like a toilet if that’s what I ordered. I could muse about chasing scoundrels, downing whiskeys, and avenging wrongs while I sat on my throne, positioned before the full-glass wall of my study in our floor-through, top-floor residence in one of those fancy glass buildings all around and below us. I could get B his own custom-made toilet with a heated seat and a motion-activated night light for nocturnal trips to the throne. If that life was so easy to attain, why didn’t I go for it?

I know what it’s like to write just for the money. That kind of life gave me daily diarrhea. Financial services had been a lucrative gig for a writer before the economy tanked, but there was no fulfillment in trying to make tax law sound sexy or forensic accounting services morally essential and redemptive. During those years, I had separated myself into worker-drone Nancy, who completed her work more than competently, and real-me Nancy, who shrank daily. The day worker-drone Nancy was downsized because my “role did not align with the strategic goals of the organization,” real-me Nancy was just a shell of someone I used to be. I had invested so many years writing about things I didn’t give a shit about for people who didn’t give a shit about me. I made some money, but I lost myself.

Six years ago I received a literal second chance at my one life. That’s a rare opportunity, a true gift. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons. Walking on that bridge with B, I knew exactly why I didn’t choose the seemingly easy-money routes. I’m many things: grumpy, pessimistic, crotchety, cheap, impatient, unforgiving. It’s humiliating to acknowledge those things about myself, but I’ve also learned to be grateful. I try to live a life that appreciates, values, sometimes even celebrates, the second chance I’ve been granted. Even a glass-half-empty woman like me thinks there’s got to be a reason for that.

It would have been nice to get B that heated toilet seat. It was fun to dream about those thrones, but I doubt either of us will live poorer lives without them.

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Random observations from my morning run.

Lake Tashmoo, Vineyard Haven, MA

Lake Tashmoo, Vineyard Haven, MA

The new normal
I get lost a lot because of my PTSD, even in familiar places. I never know when my sense of direction and memory of where I’ve been and where I’m going will abandon me. I use street maps in my own city and recite the names of the streets I’ll take every time I walk out my door: Liberty, St. Paul’s, Kennedy, Pavonia.

I worry about getting lost when I travel alone. Here in Vineyard Haven, I never leave without a map or cell phone. Yet who would I call if I get lost? I walked out the door this morning and repeated my recitation throughout my four-mile run: Main, Clough, Lake, Pine, Spring…

Lost dog
I saw the shirtless man as I approached Lake Tashmoo. He spoke with a shirted man who then drove off in a pick up truck. I noted the make, model and color in case he was a kidnapper and I encountered him later in my run. Two men, one me, a lonely road in the early morning: the situation triggered my fight-or-flight. Friend or foe? Friend or foe? I repeated as I ran and hoped I wouldn’t forget my string of street names.

The shirtless man called out to me as I returned from my visit to the lake shore. I acknowledged him but kept running; I would listen but not stop. He stood at the end of his driveway and asked if I’d seen a medium grey dog during my run. I saw the worry in his eyes, his hair askew, a young boy near the house entrance holding a leash. I felt badly and said I’d look out for a dog during my run. I meant it, but never saw the dog.

Rush hour
I ran a mix of quiet residential streets and main roads. It was early in the morning, well before seven o’clock, but there were a surprising number of cars on the main roads. I remembered people actually live on Martha’s Vineyard. Drive like your children live here. Those signs are most prevalent on the side streets closer to downtown. Many of the vehicles I saw so early were pick ups and vans. They belonged to contractors on their way to work sites, not organ stealers prowling for lone Puerto Rican female runners. They waved me on and allowed me to cross the street, even when I wasn’t at an official pedestrian crossing.

The line of vehicles waiting to board the car ferry was long. A lot of box trucks, vans, some smaller trailers. I saw the delivery truck for Our Town Markets, the liquor store in Oak Bluffs where I got my stash on Saturday night. It made me happy to know they would be stocked when I biked back to the store.

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Church karaoke.

My initial 36 hours on Martha’s Vineyard have been full of surprises: My desperate reaction to the news that Vineyard Haven is a dry town. Rich white people on exclusive New England islands wear ugly sherbert-colored clothing. I attended Sunday mass.

I was too sweaty and foul for the eight o’clock mass at St. Augustine when I ran past the church around 8:15 Sunday morning. I knew I had time to attend the 5:00 p.m. mass before the writing seminar’s welcome reception. I arrived at the church, showered and dressed nicely, five minutes before the beginning of mass.

The church was not elaborate, but pretty with crisp stained glass windows and a ceiling beamed and curved like the inside of a ship. I sat in the pew alone and was reminded of how far I was from John and my family. The mass musicians – three vocalists, two with guitars, one acoustic, the other electric – warmed up and the beauty of their voices distracted me from the oncoming black cloud mood.

It seemed the entire congregation sang along with the musicians. No one held a missalette and I was impressed that they all knew the lyrics. I wished I could sing along, even though I can never determine the correct note to sing and sound like a preadolescent boy whose voice is changing. It surprised me when I saw the hymn lyrics projected onto the wall behind the altar and realized the attendees were able to sing along because it was like church karaoke.

What surprised me most of all was that when I read the lyrics to sing along, they choked me up. I tried to sing or at least say the words “Open the eyes of my heart lord” but my throat tightened and tears formed in the corners of my eyes. I’m normally reluctant to attend mass and never sing hymns but the situation was outside of my normal: I was removed geographically from John and the people important to me. But I knew I wasn’t removed from their love. And because I have all this love in my life, I have the courage to do these crazy things like go to remote places to live among strangers and write stories. The people who love me don’t think any of this is crazy. My eyes were so opened at that moment that all I could do was cry.

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Things that have terrified me so far about attending the writers’ seminar on Martha’s Vineyard (in no particular order):

Ethnic hair care
Last summer’s desperate and fruitless search for a satin hair bonnet on Cape Cod highlighted that the basic necessities of ethnic hair care cannot be found outside of urban areas. Put another way: I can’t expect to find products to control the kinkies in places populated overwhelmingly by non-ethnic gente. Martha’s Vineyard is an island; everything needs to be transported onto the island. I doubted highly it received regular shipments of Queen Helene Cholesterol Crème Conditioner, satin hair wraps or shea butter treatment. I envisioned a week of high humidity and native fowl trapped in my gnarly fro. I packed my products and accessories in my carry-on for extra assurance.

Closet-dwelling psychos, van-driving kidnappers, and la chupacabra
The house in which I’d stay for the week was on a dead end street. The door was unlocked when I arrived. No one answered my calls of “Hello?” A note on the kitchen table greeted guests, outlined the week’s schedule and house rules, and invited the reader to make him or herself at home. I went into code red. Anyone could have walked into the house before me, made themselves at home, and be waiting for a lone little woman. Anyone. I checked the closets, shower stalls, behind the curtains, under the beds, and behind the couches for crazies. The toilets were free of piranhas. As I locked the windows, I saw a contractor’s van parked across the street. Vans are the preferred vehicles of cultists and human organ stealers. I locked all the doors and drew all the curtains closed. I didn’t want potential abductors or la chupacabra to know I was alone.

Vineyard Haven is a dry town
This most vital piece of information was not mentioned on the seminar’s web site or materials. An employee at the local bookstore informed me of this when I asked where I could buy a bottle of wine or pack of beer. I never realized a lack of pubs or liquor stores would be an issue until I found out there were none within the town. I left the books on the counter and walked onto Main Street, dazed. A police officer strolled across the street, which seemed appropriate because the situation felt like an emergency. However, the officer was on foot and I was too shy to ask him to call a squad car to take me into the next town, sirens blaring and lights flashing.

Martha’s Bike Rentals was ahead and still open, well past the official closing time. I took it as a sign; I was destined to rent bicycle #19. Georgie assured me the wire basket was large enough to accommodate a six pack and bottle of wine. He circled the location of Our Town Market on the map, three miles away in Oak Bluffs, and assured me I wouldn’t miss the large American flag or Budweiser sign. The ride there along Beach Road was glorious, past homes with unobstructed views of the water and setting sun. The parking lot was packed with cars and bicycles. I rode carefully on the return to not jostle the bottles in my basket. The bottle of Palm ale made me floaty as I sipped it on the swing and watched the fireflies spark the edges of the front yard. Disaster averted.

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Retirement planning.

I’m not retiring anytime soon. As an adjunct college instructor and fiction writer, I might never be able to retire. Living past age 90 is common in my family, so I may be grading undergraduate essays, tutoring, dog walking, and writing reviews of local delis and middle school plays for the next 50 years. But if the day comes when I can put away my red pen and ignore the queries for someone to walk Rover or help Junior with his grammar, I’ll be ready. I’m in my early 40s, but I’ve been a retiree-in-training for about two years and have racked up gold stars in golden years living. I’m fierce and I’m kicking ass.

I leave the Water Whackies in my wake. Every Wednesday morning, I join the Water Whackies for an hour-long aqua aerobics class at the community pool. That’s right: my classmates call themselves the Water Whackies. Retirees tend to have a healthy sense of humor and the Water Whackies are mostly retirees. Who else is available for aqua aerobics at 9:30 on a Wednesday morning? Oh, that’s right: me.

I might share the pool’s shallow end with skirted ladies and bosomed gentlemen, but I stand out in my electric-blue racing Speedo. And who’s the only one who can keep up with the instructor? That’s right, this girl. Oh, and I’m the only one to whom my classmates refer as “girl.”

Everybody knows my name at the retirement home. I’m popular with everybody in my parents’ building: from the front desk attendant to the president of the Bingo club, from the ladies who gossip in the community room to the home health aides gathered in the laundry room. So what if it’s because I’m a break from the routine of waiting for the mailman or the high school kids who deliver the prescriptions from Newport Pharmacy. I’m a superstar the moment I walk through the doors and leave behind the plebeian world; I’m no longer “ma’am,” “uh, honey,” “Professor Booth,” “the main holder of the account” nor “Number 213.” I become sweetie, miss, or something I rarely hear, Nancy.

Gettin’ it fresh and getting’ it cheap. The coffee and muffins are fresher during the morning special at ShopRite. Movies are cheaper and theaters emptier before 11:00 a.m. Those who frequent these discounts might be cranky and fusty and give me the hairy eyeball like I’m some whippersnapper interloper, but I’m faster in my sneakers than they are in their Velcro-closure orthopedic shoes: I’m first in line for those coffee, pastries, tickets, and bathroom stalls.

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Telling Tales.


The latest installment of my contribution to the “Interview” section of KGB Bar Literary Magazine.

If you are a writer or poet with a recently or soon-to-be released work, and would like to be featured in “Telling Tales,” please contact me via email.


If you’re a publisher or agent, this Boricua seeks representation and has a manuscript of tales that needs publication! Contact me via email regarding Underbelly, my fiction manuscript.

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