Not Quite Me

Writing 101: Serially Found

Earlier in the course, you wrote about losing something. Today, write about finding something. For your twist, view day four’s post and today’s post as installments in a series.

This is the second part in a three installment series.  The first installment was The Serial Killer.

For several weeks before I found out, I had been complaining how unusually tired I was; exhausted really.

“I don’t feel sick,” I remember saying to Sam, one of my girlfriends, on the phone as I sat on the carpeted step outside of my bedroom.  “I don’t know how to explain it, I just don’t feel like myself.”

“It seems like you’ve been tired ever since your father died,” she offered.

For a moment, I thought maybe Sam is right.  My father’s sudden death did take a toll on me.  It took me almost two weeks to return to my office and several months to resume my normal schedule.  My body and my soul were in mourning.

“No, it has been five years.  This is different.  I’m sneaking into the ladies room at work to take power naps during the day.  I come home and I’m tired and I’m hungry.  When I start to eat, I’m not that hungry; I’m more tired so I just go to bed early.”

“You need to make an appointment with your doctor,” Sam chided.

“You’re right.  It’s not that I’m sick, at least I don’t think I’m sick.  I feel like me, but just not quite me.”

“Maybe you’re not quite you, you are quite you pregnant!”

“That’s crazy.  We just got back together.  If, I’m still feeling off in a few days I’ll call my doctor.”

I was still sitting on the step when your Dad walked in the house.  When I got up to kiss him, I immediately felt woozy.  Not the you swept me off my feet woozy, the I’m about to do a face plant kind of woozy.

That was it.  I had to go to the doctors immediately.  I told him what Sam had said and we started talking about the possibility of you. We were cautiously optimistic both thinking it was more likely that I was experiencing some sort of blood sugar imbalance than that I was pregnant.

The next day my primary care doctor confirmed Sam’s suspicion.  That is how we found out, baby girl that we were going to be a family, a forever family.

Writing 101: Be Brief

Writing 101: Be Brief

You discover a letter on a path that affects you deeply. Today, write about this encounter. And your twist? Be as succinct as possible.

You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.

Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

Quickly, I snuck up the attic stairs while my grandparents were sleeping. The two-family with a dutch flat that my grandparents never finished was eerily quiet in the early morning.  As I reached the top step, the cigar box that contained what remained of my Uncle Romeo’s life came into view.  It is what had me out of my bed so early on a Saturday morning skulking around the attic.

For all my 13 years, Uncle Romeo, my grandmother’s brother, had lived with my great grandparents. First, he was a sad broken figure of a man sitting in a wooden chair peering out a single kitchen window in the kitchen of my great grandmother’s home in a third floor walk up. Day after day he sat and surveyed the people on the busy street below.  He rarely spoke; uttering a soft-spoken word or two here and there and then mostly in Italian while all around him the hustle and bustle of our large and boisterous Italian extended family took place.

Why Uncle Romeo sat in silence was always shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Cloaked in sadness, he appeared to be searching for something through his window.  I asked my mother once why he just sat there.  She said something about the war and being shell shocked and a woman named Graziella but I should never speak of either.

When my great grandparents began to get feeble the three of them moved away from Uncle Romeo’s window to a nursing home. Suddenly the chair by the kitchen window he had silently occupied for several decades was replaced by a blue cushioned chair in a room in a nursing home without a window.

I opened the cigar box and a piece of worn stationery peeked out from underneath Uncle Romeo’s scant belongings; a pocket comb, a worn photograph, a ball of string, a Swiss army knife and an old savings account passbook.

I turned my flashlight toward the paper so I could read the words:

Dear Romeo,

Words escape me. But, I must tell you.

I enjoyed our time together and care about you deeply. But, I am no longer in love with you.

When you left to fight on the European Front your absence was too difficult for me. I felt so alone and miserable.  Pasquale was there to help me.  I am sorry, neither of us meant for this to happen.  As we spent more time together, Pasquale and I fell in love.   We are getting married on the second Sunday in May.

I hope, we both hope you can forgive us,


In 100 words she shattered Uncle Romeo’s heart. Convinced Graziella would return to him, he spent a lifetime looking for her to walk up the busy sidewalk outside my great grandmother’s kitchen and return to him.  Until, he moved to a chair without a view.

Antipasto, heavy on the salami, hold the pasta

Writing 101, Day Ten: Happy (Insert Special Occasion Here)!

Today, be inspired by a favorite childhood meal. For the twist, focus on infusing the post with your unique voice — even if that makes you a little nervous. Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.  Feel free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.  Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

Growing up in a predominantly Italian American family, every family celebration or holiday meal featured a pasta dish, red gravy, and a stick (a loaf of Italian bread).  Whenever my extended family gathered together there was an abundance of noise, cousins and definitely food.

Each of these celebratory meals started with the antipasto, a selection of olives, cheeses, cured meats, and a variety of vegetables like artichokes and mushrooms marinated in olive oil or vinegar.  The antipasto platter glistened on the holiday table set by my Nana or mother like precious jewels.  My mouth salivated as my eyes set upon the round slices, marbled and reddish in color.  Salami, a cured Italian sausage, was always my favorite.  It didn’t matter to me how I ate it, plain slices with nothing added; slices wrapped around provolone; layered together with lettuce, tomatoes, provolone, olive oil, roasted red peppers sandwiched in a piece of stick with oregano sprinkled on top; or even Americanized on Wonder Bread with mustard and American cheese.  More often than not, I would eat so much salami during the antipasto or first course that I would struggle to eat my main course.  I could eat pasta and red gravy any time but salami and antipasto were extravagant and reserved for holidays and special occasions, too expensive for normal daily consumption.  Salami was a special treat, not the ordinary bologna or imported ham that normally occupied the cold cut drawer in our refrigerator.  And I appreciated its specialness.

I was a finicky eater as a child with more of a sweet tooth than appreciation for spiciness, so salami was not the type of food I would be expected to like.  Meatballs and pasta, yes, cannoli, gelato, any one of the variety of Italian cookies my mother baked definitely.  But in addition to my sweet tooth, I developed an early appreciation for savory goodness of salami.  On more than one occasion, my parents had to remind me not to each too much salami before the main course, but I could not seem to satiate my taste for the savory treat I relished.  Moments after my parents reminded me, my little hands could be seen reaching across the table for one last slice of salami before the antipasto was put away and the pasta course was put on the table.  Although I loved pasta and meatballs, on the special occasions that antipasto was served, I preferred my antipasto to be heavy on the salami, hold the pasta.

As a child, an uncle brought my cousin and me to our first Bruins game and what I remember about that night besides my excitement over seeing Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito was that my uncle took us to an Italian restaurant for dinner before the game.

“Order anything you want,” he said to me.  I looked at the menu and asked for a salami sandwich.

My uncle was baffled.  “I said you can get anything you want, he reminded me.

“That is what I want,” I replied.

“A salami sandwich?” He laughed. “You can have that anytime!”  He tried to convince me to order something else.

I did not change my order.  For me, my first Bruins game was a special occasion and instead of celebrating it by ordering a multicourse meal, I preferred to enjoy my special treat: antipasto, heavy on the salami, hold the pasta

As an adult, I now serve antipasto on my table when my family gathers at our house on holidays such as Christmas Eve.  And although the cold cut drawer in our refrigerator periodically houses salami next to the ordinary bologna or imported ham, I still consider it a special treat.  For me, it can turn an ordinary day into something so much more than ordinary.

Working Through The Pain with Chocolate and Chardonnay

Sitting in the cold sterile hospital room waiting for my doctor to come speak to me, I remember the night you were conceived.  Your father and I had recently reconciled.

Your grandfather had passed away suddenly of a massive heart attack four months earlier.  The night before Papa’s funeral, your Dad, who has never handled stress or loss very well, announced he was leaving me after the funeral.   The sudden death of his Dad was telling him that there was something wrong with his life and we weren’t meant to be together.

Don’t try to make sense of that.  I lived through it and I don’t  completely understand his thought process.  At this point, four years into our relationship, I knew that when your Dad was upset the best thing I could do was assure him that I was there if he needed me and give him space.  Hovering and expecting him to talk through it like my girlfriends and I did wasn’t going to help either one of us.  But, even I was surprised by his bombshell announcement.

Several months passed before he returned asking for my forgiveness.  On the night you were conceived, we were still in the honeymoon stage of our reconciliation.  When your father left the room to freshen our drinks, I lay there in the candlelight and conversed with God.  I knew  I was ovulating I told him and as I speak sperm is racing to my unfertilized eggs.  You have what you need to make this happen, but please only let this happen if I’m going to have a happy, healthy baby.  If I’m not going to carry full-term then don’t let this happen, I pleaded with him.  My prayers have long been conversations with God more often than the formal prayers of my Catholic upbringing.  When I missed my period, I knew that my prayers had been answered.  That and the incredible exhaustion.

In the months that followed, your father and I chose your name Kendra Raye after your two grandfathers.  Or Isaiah Ray had you been a boy, Ray being the middle name of your Dad and his Dad before him.  And, we planned your life.  There would be ballet classes and softball, picnics at Pope John Paul Park, summers at the beach, girls’ days at the salon with me, your aunt and cousins, your father would braid your hair,  and I would be in charge of your religious upbringing – Catholic with a healthy dose of Southern Baptist.

In my second trimester, we  started telling people other than family and the closest of our friends our news.  We followed the conventional wisdom of waiting until after that second trimester mark.  Most miscarriages happen during the first trimester.

When I got ready for work and my doctor’s appointment that morning, I was feeling lucky.  The signs of my pregnancy were there – your father lovingly observed how my shape had changed and my stomach hardened.  I felt good, hungry and tired, but good.  I was loving being pregnant.  I was not waddling but walking protectively – my arm always in front of my growing belly as I maneuvered crowded subway platforms or walked down stairs.

So often when bad news is coming, we are unaware that it lurks around the corner.  And that was the case that morning.  I was excited for my day ahead of me while admittedly annoyed , actually downright angry, with your father because he wasn’t going to the doctor’s appointment with me.

The doctor finally comes into the hospital room to talk with me.  His face shows no emotion.  “Lynne, we are sorry, “ he starts, “something went wrong, your baby is no longer moving.  We believe the baby, your pregnancy is no longer viable.”  I am left alone to compose myself.  The room is colder now and I am angry, angry at God, angry at your Dad while at the same time happy that he is not there exploding as each of the doctor’s words cut into my heart.

I call one of my sisters to tell her … I scare her with my unintelligible words.  I can’t breathe, I can’t utter words, all I can do is cry.  She offers to call your father for me – I ask her not to.  I don’t want to go home.  Yet, I can’t stay in the hospital room crying forever.  I must go home.  The doctor asks if I am safe at home fearing that the reason  I don’t want to go home is domestic violence.  I tell him that I am safe.  I don’t want to go home and break the heart of the man I love, I explain.  Telling your Dad what the doctor told me is without a doubt one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do.

I was supposed to return to the hospital the next day so that they could start me on a round of drugs that would induce a miscarriage like the morning after pill.  My sister tells me that I should wait, when she was pregnant with her oldest daughter, the baby stopped moving for several days but she was fine.  Her doctor, who is one of the top OB-Gyns in the country agrees to see me on that Friday.  He advises me not to get my hopes up, but that there is a possibility my doctor is wrong and he is willing to give me a second opinion.

I go to work the day in between trying to act normal.  It is fruitless.  I sit at my desk and cry.  I explain it to my boss and leave early that day after my closest co-workers and I cry in the ladies room.

The morning of the appointment for my second opinion, in the shower as my hand brushes across my stomach I notice it is no longer hard.  I know this means I really don’t need a second opinion.  I go anyway.  As the doctor examines me – the nurse notes that there  is no firmness.  I know this means my fears are true; they send me for an ultrasound.

My body holds on to you, refusing to expel your remains from my uterus. For a week, I fear waking up in blood or starting to miscarry at work.  Nothing happens.  It seems to me that you and I are in denial,  paralyzed by grief we can’t let go of each other.  My new doctor schedules me for a DNC.  The emotional pain is unbearable.

I am not sure how or why your father and I made it through this – each of us handling our grief differently.  He could not look at me – he stayed out as much as possible.  All I wanted was for him to hold me and cry with me.  Instead, I cried alone as I consumed equal amounts of  chardonnay and chocolate (M & M’s from the Nescafe jar full of candy coated chocolates that my Mom sent me home with).  Ironically, I gained more miscarriage weight than I did pregnancy weight.

A decade has since passed and there remains a hole in our lives that you were meant to occupy.

Fleeting moments of their childhood

Under the glistening late spring sun, I watch my nieces and their friend dancing around the front of my sister’s mini-van in the parking lot of our favorite ice cream stand.  I look at Gianna, my oldest niece barely 13 and often mistaken for 11, goofing with her younger sister and laughing so whole heartedly that I expect ice cream to be squirting out of her mouth as she busts a gut.

Jenny's First Communion 049

Gianna and Jenny

My sister yells for the girls to hurry up.  We both want to go home, she spent the day at the softball field with my oldest niece and I had met them there taking Jenny my youngest niece to Relay for Life so she could sell raffle tickets and the duct tape crafts she and the other members of her school’s Kids for a Cure Cancer Club had made for the fundraising event for the American Cancer Society.  I turn and comment, “It’s hard to believe in 5 years Gianna will be graduating from high school and heading off to college.”


Gianna and Jennie – Red Sox World Series Parade

In part, what I am really saying is let them goof around a little longer.  Soon, way too soon, they will no longer be little girls dancing in the ice cream stand parking lot but young women heading off to college and the next chapters of their lives and we will be longing for moments just like this one.  Their all too fleeting childhoods are made up of fleeting moments like this; moments we should enjoy while we can.

g basketball

Gianna #15 – the shot goes in at the buzzer

jenny softball

Jenny’s first softball trophy

We will yearn for the days when their young lives orbited around ours.  When every winter Saturday, we spent the entire day in the local school gym not only watching their basketball games but the games of their friends because the girls wanted to stay and wanted us to stay with them.  Soon enough it won’t matter so much to them if we stay.

When spring time meant shuttling between softball fields several days of the week.   Two girls both on two teams meant schedule conflicts – my sister would most often take her younger daughter to her game; dropping my oldest niece off to me so I could take her to the softball field around the corner from my house for her game.  Their father bouncing between the two games as my sister and I text the scores of games to each other.  As tiring as softball season can be, sooner than I care to think I will look back with a fond yearning for the spring days when Gianna came charging into my house, dropping her cleats and softball bag on my living room floor along with the dirt from the softball field.

I enjoy my role as the favorite aunt and have sometimes been accused of spoiling my nieces – guilty as charged.  I spoiled the now adult niece and nephews when they were little and I spoil the younger ones too.  It is my prerogative as favorite aunt.    I know soon enough, they will no longer be calling me at 6 pm on a Sunday night because they don’t have all the supplies they need for a school project due in the morning and neither mom nor dad can take them.  I remind myself to enjoy even that moment as it is all part of growing up.

christmas 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

Sitting in the late spring sun with my sister watching my nieces dance, I realize how fleeting their childhood is and I know that I will continue to tie their shoes, make Christmas magical for them, bake cookies, tickle their arms like Nanny (my Mom) did for them when they were babies, take them to Chuck E. Cheese , watch their softball and basketball games,  go to their plays and concerts and squeeze my adult bottom into the auditorium seats not designed to comfortably seat adults (and I will point out that design flaw every time), and yes spoil them for as long as they want me to.  And, I will try to be grateful for each fleeting moment of their childhoods I get to spend with them.

Geraniums make me smile ….

Mother’s Day came and went. And, I did step out of my comfort zone.  In the process, I think I may have stumbled across a tradition that I could embrace going forward.

My day started out with a call from my godson Michael and his sweet six-year old daughter, Kendra wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day.  I eased into my day and called my sisters wishing them a Happy Mother’s Day.

Several hours passed and still I had not decided what I would do with my day.  I finally called my aunt and wished her a Happy Mother’s Day.  Casually, I mentioned that I was thinking of going shopping at our local outdoor mall and asked her if she wanted to go with me.  We agreed to leave in an hour and I nonchalantly told her not to eat suggesting we could grab lunch while we were out.  I did not want to make a big deal out of this outing.  Normally, my aunt would be at my youngest sister’s house but she was on softball mom duty – one of my nieces was playing in a tournament all weekend.

My relationship with my aunt is complicated – she is my godmother and my mother’s baby sister but we are not what I would call close.  I’ve never shared with her any of my emotions about Mother’s Day and the anniversary of my mom’s death.  On the one hand, I’m sure she can relate as my grandmother died 11 years ago and made her a motherless daughter.  But on the other hand, my conversations with my aunt just aren’t of an emotional nature.  I would describe our relationship as one obligated by birth.  The reality of my asking her to spend a few hours on Mother’s Day afternoon with me had less to do with her and more to do with my mom.  Given the circumstances of my aunt’s failing health and the unavailability of her favorite niece, my mom would want me to step up and do something nice for her sister.

So off we went shopping, it wasn’t so bad.  There were no altercations with grown daughters being excessively rude to their mothers even in the department stores.   I bought my first Christmas present for one of my nieces and actually wrapped it.  It was a great deal that I won’t get in season closer to Christmas.  This purchase is very ironic because as I have mentioned I am a procrastinator and buying a Christmas gift this early is crazy early for even the most organized person.  I was always the daughter who came rushing into the house, bags of presents in tow, an hour maybe two before our family gathered for Christmas Eve looking for wrapping paper, tape and scissors.  My mom would get a good laugh out of this early purchase and that it is already wrapped.

We went to lunch not at one of the nicer restaurants but at my aunt’s choice of Friendly’s because the wait at the other restaurants was 25 – 30 minutes.  Although my palate wanted something more than a fast food restaurant, I must concede that Friendly’s was a great choice.  It was a perfectly safe restaurant for me to be at on Mother’s Day; there were no adult women with their mothers, the clientele was either families with young children or the very elderly.

geraniumsAfter lunch, I went to Home Depot while my aunt did her grocery shopping.  I bought some potting soil and geraniums to plant in pots and planters.  Also, earlier than I normally manage to complete, usually my best is the end of May/mid -June.  I love geraniums because my mother loved geraniums.  When I walk up my walkway and onto my front porch and see the geraniums lining the stairs and the windows, even after the most difficult day, they make me smile.  Geraniums remind me of my mom and make me think of happy memories and I can’t help but smile.

My trip to Home Depot revealed to me how I could spend Mother’s Days from now on: planting geraniums and smiling.  And I know as that Sunday begins to fade, I will still feel relief in knowing that another Mother’s Day is passing and Monday is about to come once again.

Motherless Daughters on Mothers Day

Since my Mom passed away eight years ago today, Mothers Day has been difficult to the say the least. The first Mothers Day after Mom died, was more than painful falling the day after we buried her in a torrential spring storm – a bona fide New England Nor’easter complete with strong winds, rain cascading from the skies as if to wash away our tears, and flooding that prevented us from holding her services graveside.

If it is true that the first set of holidays after a loved one passes is the most difficult then that first Mothers Day was especially difficult. My childhood home that had no less than 24 hours before been filled with the sounds of people – family and friends – was excruciatingly quiet. The walls seemed to ooze with the heaviness of our grief. I was alone in the house that seemed emptier than I’d ever known it to be. This simple ranch where my parents had raised four daughters was never quiet. My parents built the house on a plot of land that three generations of my mother’s family prior to my generation had gathered for family events and gatherings and it had never known so much quiet. But that day, my three sisters were each with their families and I had sent my other half off to be with his mother; assuring both of them that if I felt like I needed company I would join them. One of my best friends invited me to join her and her family that day; which would have been perfectly comfortable as her parents were like mine. We all knew, however, that I would stay where I felt I should be holding vigil in my mother’s house.

In the Mothers Days that have followed, I have learned that is best that I stay away from places where mothers and daughters gather such as nail salons, malls, and restaurants during the days around Mothering Sunday. It is in everyone’s best interest that I am not in a place where daughters might argue with their mothers. The week before the second Mothers Day after my Mom’s death, I had to abruptly leave a Marshalls store near my house. A mother was telling her daughter to try something on that the daughter who was about my age did not want to try on. The daughter was being as rude as the mother was being stubborn. I wanted to say, “Just try it on and you can laugh at how ugly it looks on you,” but instead I blurted out, “Don’t be so mean to your mother, you are lucky she is still alive.” I dropped the items I had in my hands and darted out of the store before either the mother or daughter could react. My girlfriends who have also lost their mothers have all had similar experiences, so we motherless daughters do our best to avoid the mall in early May.

My new normal Mothers Day has been to call the people I need to acknowledge and then do my best to pretend that it is just another Sunday. Mothers Day is one of the days that I feel her loss more intensely. This year I have been feeling like I should step out of the safety of my comfort zone and do something – perhaps visit my mother’s grave although mom would prefer I give the flowers to someone living to enjoy like someone in a nursing home who doesn’t get visitors or invite my aunt to dinner because that’s what my Mom would do if she was still alive. I make no promises except that I will do whatever feels right to me even if that means staying home waiting for Monday to come once again.