you have seen my face (new fiction)


Millie (Credit: Lauren Naefe)


Girl, please. Everyone remembered Felicia, that black girl who jumped out of a window. Lived with her mother and that hustle man Marlon in the projects. Homegirl was half black, technically, although you’d never know it because she had the kind of face that belonged on milk cartons. But that hair, shit gave you whiplash with the double take. White girls don’t have rough hair, all thick and tangled. Like wires. White girls don’t have it like we do.


I remember because I was there, said Sakima digging through a bag of cheese doodles. Back then fifty cents got you a proper meal—a bag of chips and a grape juicy juice. Onion rings and plantains cost you extra but we didn’t play around with that shit because stupid. Back then we flashed our bus passes or hopped the turnstiles on the R train to scrounge uptown for quarters. You’d be surprised how many people left change in the payphone, and we slid our fingers in, and it was just like being in a box of Cracker Jacks only we didn’t get those treats until Christmas, and then you had to go and share your shit because you were Christian (whatever that means) even though you fell asleep in church when you went and woke to your mom slapping you in the face for being insubordinate. Where did you get that word, you snapped back. Doing crossword puzzles? That type of smart mouthing got you a backhand slap and no dinner. Everyone in the house was scheming, perfecting their eye-roll. Everyone hissed: you did this to yourself.


You was there, ‘Kima? Bugging. I was with Millie trying to sell this Walkman we found at Sunset. The plan was hot dogs and a pretzel but then we ran into Thomas and Judy and they were like, let’s listen to some tapes, and we ended up in their apartment dancing to Taylor Dayne. When we left it was dark out and we knew we were going to catch the beats for certain. But there was Felicia, waving at us. Like she knew we were coming. Like we were supposed to be there all along. And we waved back because we’re not anti-social. Her moms would sometimes sneak us hot muffins when the Greek wasn’t looking so Felicia at least deserved a wassup. So we gave it, and then we saw her knees on the ledge, and she was waving but not to us, not to nobody, and then we started to wonder what was up. We thought maybe we should go over and ring her bell—but then no. Then she fell or jumped out, I don’t know, and then her body was on the ground and her neck broke and you wouldn’t believe the blood and I remember that night because nobody caught the beats. Everyone got a free pass, because what business did that white girl have breaking out? (She half white, stupid! Bitch, whatever.) We remember Felicia and the books she carried around with her in that blue backpack. We remember how her mom dressed her up like a baby, but she wasn’t a baby. She was ten and why did she jump out of a window?




You think Marlon was her father? Shit, girl. He’s everybody’s father. What do it even matter? He wasn’t behind her, pushing her out. He was out, hustling for the pipe. The only reason she made the news was because oh the tragedy of a white girl in the projects. Half white, she was half white. Yeah, but you know white people—they don’t know the difference. You heard what happened to her mom, right? Came home from work and found her daughter, eyes wide, on the sidewalk. The police didn’t even cover her proper, they just stood around her, taking pictures, writing things down, and yelling at us to stay back. Stay back? We live in that building. Anyway. Her mother took all the books out of her backpack and off the shelves and tore out the pages. Crumbled them up and shoved them in her mouth so we couldn’t hear her scream. Come to think of it, we never saw her mother cry. She just went back to waiting tables, writing things down, and yelling at us to stay away from the fucking muffins.


How old was you? Hmm…ten, eleven, I think. But that wasn’t the first body we saw—it was one of the few we remember. Because she white? Nah, it was nothing like that. Sakima laughed. She turned away from the midday sun because it hurt her eyes. She thought about the shades in her backpack if they would be useful, and then she decided against it because shades weren’t appropriate for the conversation. This kind of talk required eyes. Maybe I remember because that’s the age when we started losing people, Sakima said. Or maybe it was how she looked. How she look? Happy.


The girls from the neighborhood (Credit: Lauren Naefe)


I talked to her once, said Millie, playing cat’s cradle with Luz. Luz wore red lipstick and was used to always winning. But Millie kept on playing because the idea of a single victory, something she could shout up and down the block and then some, kept her going. Even if a victory was an impossibility, even though Millie was the kind of girl who would be there when a girl they sort of knew fell out of a window but couldn’t tell the story about it, she kept playing. Look at Sakima, acting all philosophical. As if she knew Felicia. As if she knew what was going on in that girl’s head. As if we didn’t all know that she copied Felicia’s poems and passed them off as her own. Millie didn’t know much, but she knew this: we don’t know anything about the people we do and do not know.


¿Qué dijiste, Millie? Millie shook her head. She didn’t remember, but she did, but how could she tell her girls about the time when Felicia pointed to one of the books she carried, one with two white girls on the cover wearing soft sweaters and pearl earrings, and wondered aloud if she could jump in. Millie didn’t understand. Jump in as in fight, as in dive in the pool? White girls were always saying crazy shit. No, Felicia said. Would it ever be possible for us to go in and stay there, in their world, their life? In a life where their greatest fear would be losing the money they would never lose because happy ending.


Right then Luz fell on her back, eyes wide, mouth open so you can see the molars and crooked teeth, and said, was this what she looked like?


Disrespecting bitch, this ain’t the Land of Make Believe. She looked like someone would look if they fell out of a four-story window. Everyone had bars on their windows now. Unless you lived in the basement because who cares, you didn’t have windows to fall out of.


Cálmate. Next year Luz had a baby because she wanted someone to love her, and a year later the baby crawled out of its crib, hungry, and broke its neck when it landed on the floor. Luz was at a house party in Brownsville for a few hours and ended up in Jersey at some brother’s house, a rock hustler who told her she was the kind of woman made for making babies. She came home a day later to find her brother smoking in the living watching MTV on the hot box and he said, it’s weird your baby’s mad quiet. Did you leave it with titi? No, she did not. In juvenile detention, she told her sister to take the dead baby’s clothes for the new one she was carrying. What if it’s a boy? Luz shrugged her shoulders because who cares until they can walk anyway? Everyone filed in, shaking their heads. You could’ve been somebody if you hadn’t fucked up your permanent record. But now, right now, Luz lay on the grass, playing Felicia. Playing dead.


She told me she read all those books because she thought she could get in them, Millie said. That’s what she said. She lived for the possibility of not being here and when she found the possible, impossible, she wrote her own happy ending. What does that even mean, Millie? Millie pulled on her sweatshirt and held her elbows in, close. The fabric had started to wear, but Millie liked this, the feeling of skin under cotton—like feet under sheets. Protected, safe. There was the math test she didn’t study for and the personal essay she couldn’t write because how do you explain what it felt like when your mom stopped looking for work—I’m stupid, why bother, and guess what, you belong to me so you’re stupid too—when she waited in line the first and fifteenth of every month, and how those two days would be the happiest her family would ever know. Millie wore Sakima’s old shoes and read the poems her best friend stole from a dead girl, passing them off as her own.


What happened to Marlon? Stupid question. What do you think happens to a young brother selling rock? He got cut, in the neck, but check it—he didn’t die from the knife. He drowned in his own blood. That’s what you get when you go fucking with Dominicans from The Bronx. Never get high on your own supply, we chorused.


Felicia was a white girl who could pass, said some random who just rolled up. I never knew her, but I lived in her building. I never talked to her, but I saw her play jump rope with herself a couple of times, so we definitely met. She asked me to play once. She held out her rope. But I said nah, I have somewhere to be, and she looked down at the ground like she was studying it, and said, no problem, and went back to jumping rope behind the gate. I felt bad about that because I didn’t have any place to be—I just didn’t want to be seen with some white girl playing rope. Know what I mean?


We nodded in our own way.


Remember that party her mom had in her house when she was dating Neysa’s man, Keith? Everyone remembered that. We didn’t because we were maybe 5 or 6, but our parents still talk about it. It wasn’t that Felicia’s mom ignored her because what parent didn’t. We were forever being told to shut up, go to your room, go outside, don’t bother me, and don’t you have something to do? Don’t your teachers give you homework? You want to end up in this shithole like me? Since you got a smart mouth you asked, is that a hypothetical? Lesson: you’re never too old to catch the beats. Anyway. Maybe Felicia didn’t get the memo on account of her being so young and all, but she kept taking sips of Barcardi from everyone’s cups and there she go—a little girl holding a bottle of Brut, drinking out of it, like she on the stoop. She was drunk and pretty and funny and she was five and it was sad because no one told her what we were only here because having children was something women did. You weren’t something your family paid attention to or loved. And that was the hurt—everyone in the room knew this except for the child who didn’t. That’s the kind of shit you shake your head to because it damn near breaks your heart.


What you girls got going on for tonight? Nothing much. The usual—chill.


Later that night while Sakima slept Millie opened her binder and removed all of Felicia’s poems. Millie read them and felt a kind of sadness that she would spend her life forgetting. In magic marker, Millie wrote Felicia’s name over and over like she was at the blackboard getting punished. Sakima woke to find Millie out on the fire escape smoking a loosie she got at the store for ten cents. Kicking pigeons in Sakima’s old shoes. What you doing out here in the cold? You didn’t write those poems, Millie said. You need to stop telling everyone you did. It’s not right. Millie was crying—her face was a mess of tears, and Sakima didn’t know what to say to her best girl she known since they were little. Their mothers said they crawled to one another. Millie fell over because Millie, but she crawled under Sakima and Sakima liked to think about that especially now when Millie looked at her like she was a prison from which she sought her escape.


Luz came home and pressed her head up against the bars of her window thinking that Felicia was smart. Felicia had an open window to jump out of while Luz had the possibility that she might be pregnant. That her period was the one thing she actually missed. Maybe if she asked the girls and they all got the change together she could buy one of those tests from the pharmacy so she could freak for real. She cried, and after her mother ripped the hair out of her head for not taking out the garbage, she looked around their apartment and then at her tiny stomach that would inevitably bloom. Her house was a prison and her stomach…well that was freedom.


After a while, everyone forgot because there’s always another Felicia. A little girl named Shareen who was thrown down a flight of stairs because her mom was high and thought that was the logical thing to do. Shareen was five with pink barrettes in her hair and people could hold onto a tragedy that wasn’t of one’s own making. The possibility of Shareen made headlines. Nobody remembered Felicia’s mother, the woman who still worked at that diner, who wore those white nursing shoes, pad in hand, asking in a voice that had flattened with age and the sadness that only loss could bring, can I take your order?



Two posts in one day, crazy? Here’s another taste from the new book. Enjoy! –FS

new fiction*: this is our playground

Sad, depressed black man in a empty room, low light


Nobody told Marlon that he would grow up hustling rock. He was thirty years old when he died, but he had the face of a boy fresh out of the crib leaping onto the playground. Kicking sand out of sandboxes and twisting the iron chains that held up tire swings. Yet underneath his skin you’d find scales webbing from his hands to the small of his back and cartons of cigarettes smoked down to the filter. Meaning, he came out of the womb all Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? even though he was far from the aging actress whose star had managed to darken an already black sky. You know how the story ends and how it wasn’t supposed to be what it was, but if you’re game and have the time lean in for a listen. Because nobody did suffering like Marlon—he reached for the dark far more than he stood in the sun.


Marlon was the miracle child, a stone that held its weight. Eve was set to have her tubes tied because what did she need with another girl in the family when she already birthed three of them? Children were a chorus of puckered mouths clamoring for the teat. Smacking their lips with that wet sound they make. The years had cradled her in sorrow. Kids she knew hopped off roofs and fell out of windows. The junk-sick lay, arms outstretched, their eyes and the tips of their fingers jaundiced. And although the police finally arrived three hours later from the time you called them, they still managed to toss lit matches into burning buildings. There they go covering the bodies with soiled sheets because they ran out of tarp, but you could still see a row of toes, a patch of unblemished skin peeking out. Cancer and tumors emerged as the new breath-robbers because who could afford to go to the hospital and wait the night it took you to see a doctor who would only tell you that the swarm advanced, your body was a contagion of growths, and here are a few things left for you to consider. Have you thought about your final days? We thought about the dolls we used to have and how we hid coins, marbles and baby teeth in the trap doors that were their insides. Flip open our flap of fabric and there goes death multiplying. Did we think about our last days? Sure we did. Hand me my smokes, do my hair good, dress me in my Sunday best, and leave me out with the rest of the trash because no way can we scrape together the bills needed for a funeral. Slow-sing over the heap of us, will you? Sing me Nina Simone, as loud as you can.


People laughed during episodes of Good Times that played on televisions suspended from the ceiling, although we knew that times were far from good. Somewhere, in the distance a phone rang. The forecast called for thundersnow. A woman studied a piece of paper, a form she was supposed to complete. I can’t read. We have these forms in Spanish, the receptionist said with a kindness that made the woman who held her frayed purse close grip it tighter. The woman shook her head and stared at the floor. Come here, mamí, the receptionist said. Let me read it to you.


What kind of lie are you living, said Eve’s friend when she learned that Eve was pregnant again. There you go thinking that another kid will increase your monthly check. Eve was carrying a boy and the father was who knows because it was 1974 and there was a party every night, and Eve sang the Chi-Lites on volume ten to all the boys in the room even though she didn’t have a movie star voice. Instead, Eve had the kind of body you wanted to wind around bed sheets. Eve swore this was the last one and what she was going to do—kill the boy in her body? Girl, please. Pause your nonsense. Marlon wasn’t about a paycheck; he’s going to be good to his mama. He’s going to be the one man who stays.


The night Marlon was born Eve threw her 8-tracks out the car window on the way to the hospital. Eve drove with one hand at the wheel, breaking lights. Her water broke twelve weeks early and she knew this couldn’t be good. Her body hurt like Riker’s, and Eve wondered if this what happened when you were a mother to a child making a prison break from the womb. In the emergency room Eve sprawled across two plastic chairs and pushed out a small mess of a child that weighed three pounds while the girls behind the desk were snapping their fingers to Rose Royce, and will you bitches get out here because there’s blood on the floor, blood everywhere, this black boy is fucking blue, and will someone call a doctor? Will someone cut the cord?


Marlon was a black boy gone blue, but he kept on breathing. Two months later Eve brought him home and the girls rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and wondered how five pounds of hostility could cause so much ruin. Behind his back, the girls called Marlon the leftover child because he was what remained when your mother got passed around one too many times. Even Eve knew that her child would be like all the other men in her life, a body that slept on top of sheets, never between them. One foot poised at the edge of the bed, ready to run. Six months in the womb, and already the boy was making a break for it—Eve had all the evidence she needed.


Notice how no one’s claiming him, said one daughter whose father came by once a month with Starburst and coloring books. Someone beat him hard with the ugly stick, the other two laughed while Marlon crawled around the linoleum. They kept the shades drawn; they lived a house where the light couldn’t get in. The girls sidestepped his groping hands while Eve worked the night shift. Rarely was he kissed. Rarely was he held.


Bitch, what did I tell you about touching me, said Marlon riding a girl called Lenny. He was thirteen and spent his days bussing to a magnet school in Park Slope and hitting up any girl who had grass on the field come evening. Marlon preferred girls who looked like “before” photos because they were grateful for the crumbs while the “afters” were throwing attitude in every direction. Marlon pushed Lenny off the bed to work on his exponents. Why did everyone need to get physical? You can at least help me with my homework, she grumbled pulling on her clothes. Peering over his shoulder, Marlon laughed. Are you wearing Care Bear underwear? Shit. You need to take your ass back to remedial because the only way you’re going to learn math is by lying on the bed issuing numbers to the homeboys outside the door. Now go on and get the fuck out of my house.


Marlon rode the bus to Bed Sty to hang with Eric, who was putting together the money to make a record. Marlon amused Eric because of the way he could do complicated math in his head. You threw numbers at the young brother and he gave you an answer on the exhale, and Eric thought some kid speed-balling multiplication tables in the chorus might make a rhyme worth repeating. Why Marlon wanted to mess around with the corner boys mystified Eric, but he never mentioned it and always slipped Marlon a twenty just for stopping by. Eric knew it took two trains and a bus for Marlon to stand on the corner shuffling his feet and eating Dipsy Doodles while all the base heads on the block lifted their shirts for a piece of the rock, thinking their skin was going to help the cause. You’re going to catch the fade, the boys hollered back, shielding their eyes with their hands because they all knew the story of Medusa and they didn’t want to turn to stone. One day Eric leaned in and said, I heard about your mom, and Marlon shrugged his shoulders because, so what, he hardly knew the woman. You don’t miss what you don’t have, even when the woman’s body whittled down to a mess of scraggly limbs and bone and flashing going out of business signs. You don’t love what you don’t know, even when the lesions told the story of a woman who’d been passed around one time too many. When Eve died no one rented the apartment she lived in, even after the super bleached the place and repainted the walls because no one wanted to live in the same place where a disease you couldn’t cure had festered and bred.


When Eve’s body was laid into a casket, Marlon ate stolen hog dogs in the park, crying his own quiet, miracle baby tears. That summer there was no shade, only sun, and it was gold and blinding. That summer Marlon slept naked on a bed stripped of sheets because even the fabric hurt. Cotton threatened his skin. Everyone was watching reruns of Good Times, talking about when times were good. Girls were discussing their tag names—Coco, Sugar, or Queen Lethal—because no one wanted to sit in their skin.


The year Eve died we found out our pastor got the sickness too and was on his knees praying for forgiveness. The Lord ain’t got time for that bullshit, said everyone on the block, passing around cups of Folgers from Ginny’s pot. Some cowboys from the Bronx shot Eric at point-blank range because everyone was having greed for dinner. Nobody made a record that year. The corner boys filed into Eric’s house for potato salad and pork cutlets, and Marlon was so tense he couldn’t speak except to whisper the times table in front of Eric’s high school graduation photo taped to his mom’s fridge.


Marlon was a black boy born blue, but he kept on breathing.


The black and white television cast the room in blue and Marlon leaned over the edge of the bed to where Felicia watched a late night movie about a man who killed a woman and got away with it, and said, I could be your daddy if you want me to. Felicia stared at the television screen, unblinking when she said, that’s not what I’m looking for. She was eight and he could tell she appreciated the sentiment. You’re a little young to be watching a movie about girls getting killed. Felicia shrugged her shoulders, smiled and pointed to the screen covered in snow. What’s on there is no different than what’s out there. They sat alone in the dark like a Hopper painting, and Marlon had to agree. You had to give it to the girl—she had a point. Marlon heard her mother spray the perfume that smelled like real flowers instead of the fake ones everyone had in their homes, and Felicia said in a small voice, how long are you going to stay, Marlon—longer than the rest? I don’t know, he said. Maybe I’ll hang a while.


Earlier that day: you remember my boy, Eric? Oh, you don’t? But you know your son, right? Little T? Here’s a picture I took of him—I like to think of this as the before because the after snap you don’t want to see. It’ll be one the coroner takes once they fish your boy out of the river. I wish you were there to watch Little T beg for his life, but don’t worry, I made you a tape and I’m going to play it for you twice. Marlon lived for the unexpected plot twist.


Marlon’s home became a revolving door of need. You’re crazy for selling crack where you rest at, said his boy Jamal. There was his eldest sister who was already burning a hole through the door after cashing her check. Maria was angling for a family discount, and if that didn’t work they could negotiate a friendlier rate. Put your clothes back on, Marlon said, shutting his eyes. Maria wrapped a blanket around her and cried playground tears at the kitchen table. They’re coming for me because my baby girl died in her sleep. I can hear them, she said, knocking on the wall. They’re in here, in the walls, listening. We have to be quiet; you have to give me a little taste so they go away. So I can to sleep. Remember mama and how she used to sing us to sleep? Marlon shrugged his shoulders because the only songs he remembered where the ones she sang on the other side of his wall, never in his room.


Marlon held his sister’s trembling hand over a bowl of spaghetti. Maria begged for darkness and unmolested sleep. Felicia turned nine and from the other room she said: just give her what she wants. Maria passed out on the couch. Marlon held his head in his hands while Felicia drew tears under Maria’s eyes with a ballpoint pen. In a year’s time, Felicia will lie in a morgue with a hangtag tied around her wrist and Maria will lie unconscious, a price tag swinging from her bedpost like a pendulum. But now, right now, Felicia was crying the tears she drew on Maria’s face. Sometimes your sadness scares me, Marlon said. Sometimes it scares me too.


Sad wasn’t a good enough word for what Felicia was—Marlon would sooner or later learn this.


Marlon didn’t like pools because they reminded him of oversized coffins. But he liked to swim so he took a pretty girl named Luz to Brighton Beach. Luz was the kind of girl you got when you were big enough to sell rock on consignment. What was she going to do in Brighton? There were no fun house mirrors, cyclones, and Nathan’s Famous—at Brighton Russian grandmas, overcharging for the air you breathed, surrounded you. Marlon and Luz split a knish when Marlon asked if she ever considered that a single haircut could ruin a whole doll’s life? When he was small his sister passed down a life-sized doll called Big Michelle whose eyes had fallen out. He carried Big Michelle everywhere until some B-boys hanging out behind the A&P knocked out his front teeth because boys don’t play with dolls and you should happy we’re teaching you a lesson. Marlon dragged Big Michelle along the pavement and when he got home he set fire to her hair and cut where the flames didn’t go.


When you’re small your mother tells you to be careful when you cross the street. Look both ways. But sometimes your mother isn’t there or she looks away when you cross or doesn’t say anything at all. Boys who broke out from the womb were bound to find their way, right?


You’re creeping me out, Luz said while perfecting her hair flip. Tell me about Felicia. I heard you were the one who found her body. I heard they found pieces of her skull in the alleyway. Marlon punched Luz in the middle of the street, and everyone looked the other way. When she got home she told everyone who would listen about what Marlon did, and then she called a brother in the Bronx and told him a story about a boy named Little T. A month later neighbors reported a smell and the police found Marlon in the bathtub with a knife in his head.


Marlon was a black boy born blue, and one day he stopped breathing. The police found a notebook he kept, and inside was a torn piece of paper and the words: you stayed longer than most. Know that you did the best you could do. –Felicia


*It’s been challenging to write in this space over the past month because I’ve become so absorbed in this story collection. Right now I’ve 140 pages of stories about women in and out of peril, tentatively titled, Women in Salt. The stories span decades, class and racial boundaries, and it’s been a joy to move in and out of voices. I’m living off meager savings, but I believe in this project so much that I’m commissioning custom illustrations and photography to take these pieces to another level–for you to feel something deeper about what’s written on the page. Right now I’m using images from Unsplash.com as place-holders but I’ve got exciting plans for this. I’ve published a complementary story, “Broke Land”, on Medium and There Was No Shade, Only Sun. And while most might think this endeavor to be silly or not financially sound (because story collection), I’m enjoying this. I’m enjoying this regardless if people read it, regardless if it’s published in book form. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I love writing them. If you love this, why not share it with someone else? –FS

the long, winding journey to the middle

Photo Credit: By Sébastien Marchand

Photo Credit: By Sébastien Marchand

There was a time when, if you wanted to see someone, you had to pick up a phone, write a letter, or ring a bell. That was the time, I say and my father nods in tacit agreement. We laugh because this is what happens when you arrive at the middle of your life–you look back on the life you never appreciated while you were living it, and you recast it in sepia. You become a revisionist, a tawdry romantic. You forever remember your life as simple, even when it was everything but, even when your days amounted to you taking cover from ferocious storms that passed swiftly. When victory meant climbing out from under gravel and rock, in-tact. Still, you’re tender with your memories because that which you once considered life-altering–the manufactured dramas, the heart that swelled and broke, the incalculable losses–no longer bears the weight you once ascribed. Their intensity diminishes with time, for the fact that have lived. What you once considered large becomes diminutive simply because these are days you’ve endured.

You think Natalie Merchant was right, these are days you remember.

Over lunch I tell a friend that I’m in the betweens. I feel the years, all of them, but I don’t. When you’re young, you consider 40 old (ask any child and they’re certain to make allusions to your imminent mummification), but a certain calm accompanies this perception because all that you don’t know will be resolved by the years. The empty will be made whole, you’re certain of it. Until you reach the middle of your life and realize that resolutions are only met with more questions. The simple becomes a cipher and you spend your days saddled with riddles.

I take a meal with a woman in her 20s who’s astonished over the fact that I still have questions, that I haven’t “figured it all out” when it comes to my career. How do I explain that in the same breath I have it all figured out but I’m not close to figuring it out? That I’m able to reconcile what matters to me but that knowledge doesn’t magically reveal what’s next. It took time to unload all the weight I’d been carrying–the weight of my generation and the expectations of meeting markers by specific age thresholds (married by 30, 2.5 children, house, career, the whole nine) and realizing that I didn’t want what had been prescribed for me–and how do I explain that I’ve merely traded in one bag for another, and the contents of each are demonstrably different?


So I looked up this Santa Monica on the Google, and you’ll be happy to know that there is a Starbucks and a Coffee Bean, my father says, satisfied. I worry that he’ll be worried. Somehow I won’t feel right about leaving if he doesn’t give me his blessing, even if I’m too old for it, even if I don’t technically need it. But I’ve come to realize that his assurance is something I need, and I laugh when he measures the weight of this decision by the proximity of coffee shops. (He doesn’t, really. My pop, like me, needs a non-threatening opener, something that won’t ripple the waters, as it were. We need to take it slow–there’s no other way.)

The coffee, I understand, is my dad’s way in.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
From T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”

We spend two hours in a car in front of the water, and I tell my pop I’m frightened. I’ll have to re-learn how to drive (so, you’ll learn); I’ll have to consider work (aren’t you already worried about that here? How is it any different there?); there will be times I will fly into New York and not have a home to go home to (home is in your heart, you know this, not where you lay your head down to rest). He says, of course you’re afraid.

In Spain, there are barnacles that are as expensive as caviar. This isn’t the sort of fish that’s affixed to rocks and certain ships, rather these crustaceans can only be found out in the deep, in the rolicking seas, and the princely sum we pay is insurance for the man who risks his life to harvest what we eat. I describe the way barnacles feed, their spindly legs and unhealthy attachments. We’re by the water now, and he inquires about the barnacles. Where are they? I point to rotten wood and the barnacles the blanket the surface.

What I don’t say is that I’ve been attaching myself to that which has only sustained. I’m taking what I can get.

My pop and I discuss probability, how he’ll likely board a plane to visit me in California than navigate a car to Brooklyn. Last night I walk along a street where I’ve walked over 25 ago, and I think about the girl then and the woman now and I’m trying to reconcile the two (a shadow behind you, a shadow rising up to greet you).

But it’s hard because the woman who grew up in Brooklyn is so foreign to the woman leaving it, and I can’t explain the sadness I feel being in between, over, under, around, beyond, the two.

This is what happens when you reach the middle of your life. You fold the terrific photographs of you from a former life, that young face washed in sepia, into a box. You preserve it. You care for it. You sometimes open the box and pore through its contents. You hold up your former self to the light. You practice nostalgia like sermon, like song. Then you realize that there are boxes left to fill. You realize that you are halfway toward the end of your life and you desire color. You need shadows under red rocks. You need new questions. You need new photographs. You need the life beyond the photo. You need to hold the still-beating heart in your hands. You need to breathe.

Update: I just listened to Isabel Allende’s talk on living passionately, regardless of age, and it was so fitting for this post and wholly illuminating.

quick bite: best salted honey pie in new york


Worth the trek to Brooklyn {so convenient to the R train!}, Four x Twenty Blackbirds serves up the finest slice of salted honey pie you’ll ever taste. Naturally, if you want to make it at home, here’s the recipe.

homemade blueberry pop tarts!

I have few memories of my time with my mother that are worthing saving. My chrysalis from child to adult practically occurred in the womb, so sometimes I struggle to remember moments when we were two giggling girls, happy. Before cocaine transformed the woman I loved into a cold, paranoid somnambulant, before we moved to the pristine postmark lawns and expensive finery that was Long Island, we lived in Brooklyn. We feasted on Gino’s pizza, greasy Chinese food {spare ribs + pork fried rice for two!}, Carvel banana boats and boxes of pop tarts. Back then, I’d never heard of the word “organic” or understood the perils of white flour and sugar. We ate what we could afford and splurged on junk food and “naughty” eats when we were flush.

Yesterday, for some reason, I remembered a time when I sold picture frames, wall hangings and knick-knacks on a sheet on Thirteenth Avenue, and I remember passersby regarding me with a kind of pity. I used to think that the end always justifies the means, so I scurried home with my dollar bills and bought Little Debbie cakes and sticker books.

motherWe loved our television loud and in color {we did have one small black and white set in the living room}, and nights I’d sometimes watch evening soaps and the game shows my mother liked to watch — all the while ripping apart the foil of a strawberry pop tart, my absolute favorite.

Time passes, and we turned off our television sets, moved to different parts to New York, separated. Within a span of fifteen years I told my mother that I couldn’t have her in my life. She was my first hurt, and loving her always seemed to ruin me. This is the very definition of survival, I thought, and I never touched the foods we shared a love for, again.

Until yesterday. Until I spent the day with one of my dearest friends and business partner, Angie, and I thought I’d make her kids a sweet treat.

While these aren’t the prettiest of tarts {I’m notoriously for failing at icing because I’ve no patience}, I assure you they are the tastiest. The bleached-white Kellogg’s version has been replaced by a buttery pastry dough, awash in egg and sugar and sprinkles.

Don’t be freaked out by making butter dough — it’s easier than you think.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
For the Pâte Brisée
Makes 8 pop-tarts
1 3/4 cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks / 228 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp cold milk {I used almond milk}
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (340 grams) blueberry jam

For the Simple Vanilla Glaze
1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 to 3 tbsp water
Rainbow sprinkles for sprinkling (optional)

For the pastry: Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, sugar, and salt for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top. Mix on low speed for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or just until the flour is no longer bright white and holds together when you clump it and lumps of butter the size of pecans are visible throughout.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk until blended. Add to the flour mixture all at once. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough just barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface, then gather it together into a tight mound. Using your palm and starting on one side of the mound, smear the dough bit by bit, starting at the top of the mound and then sliding your palm down the side and along the work surface (at Flour we call this “going down the mountain”), until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the dough comes together. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough, moving through the mound until the whole mess has been smeared into a cohesive dough with streaks of butter.

Gather up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and press down to flatten into a disk about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

For the pop tarts: Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in half. Press each half into a rectangle. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half into a 14-by-11-inch rectangle. Using a paring knife, lightly score 1 rectangle into eight 3 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch rectangles (about the size of an index card).

Brush the top surface of the entire scored rectangle with the egg. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the jam in a mound in the center of each scored rectangle. Lay the second large dough rectangle directly on top of the first. Using fingertips, carefully press down all around each jam mound, so the pastry sheets adhere to each other.

Using a knife, a pizza roller (easier), or a fluted roller (easier and prettier), and following the scored lines, cut the layered dough into 8 rectangles. Place the rectangles, well spaced, on a baking sheet.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the tops of the pastries are evenly golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

For the glaze: While the pastries are cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and enough of the water to make a smooth, pourable glaze. You should have about 1/2 cup. (The glaze can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.)

When the pastries have cooled for 30 minutes, brush the tops evenly with the glaze, then sprinkle with the rainbow sprinkles (if using). Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the glaze to set before serving.

The pastries can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.


mourning a heart that is sometimes broken


“The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.” ― Samuel Beckett, Endgame

prepare yourself for the giant…

Do you know who I am? I’m alive you understand, the life, the life, the life…Are you prepared for the atom bomb, are you prepared for my aching arms? Are you prepared, are you prepared? Are you prepared for serenity, are you prepared to disagree? Are you prepared, are you prepared for meThe Bird and the Bee’s “Preparedness”

We were a family of lottery players. We sharpened our pencils, selected numbers at random, and stood on a line that snaked the length of a city block, because we believed that all we needed was a dollar and a dream. Come nightfall we’d sit on the stoop, still wet from the johnny pump and the spray of Colt 45 that matted our hair to the backs of our necks, listening to the elders trade stories of what they’d do if they hit it big. Sadie said she was going to buy me a house where all the white people lived. Promising us that she’d stand on her lawn, defiant, knowing that they couldn’t get rid of me, even if they tried. Some mused about giant boats settling sail in a blue ocean. No one had ever seen waves swell, seen the beauty of them rise up and warble like a long note held. No one bore witness to the descent, to the waves crashing onto the shoreline. Back then the only water we’d seen poured out of spigots and sprayed out of pumps on the street.

Others hatched plans about taking a trip around the world although they secretly knew that the whole of their world would always be Brooklyn. Their prison was a ten-block radius, yet once a week they’d shuffle to the market with their dollar in tow, plotting escape.

Back then we were naive to believe that money bought you freedom. Back then we wanted the life we saw on our black and white television sets; we raged war with the wire rabbit ears to bring this life into focus. Back then we wanted the giant.

Recently, someone upbraided me for my decision to abandon a comfortable life. Think of all the money. Think about what you’re walking away from, she warned. Shaking my head I sighed and said that what I was running toward was infinitely richer. It was the ticking that was the bomb. Granted, I’m being smart about things. I’m squirreling away as much money as I can. I’m buying only what I need. I’m ridding myself of the unnecessary, the things that only bring me anxiety rather than sustenance. I’m making my preparations for the day when I’ll walk away from security to something other. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t worry about it, fret over my decision, a little. I’m pragmatic, cautious, but then I recall a conversation I had with my friend Kate a few years back. I considered renting a more expensive apartment than the one in which I’d lived, but worried that I wouldn’t have the money to pay for it in the long run. Kate told me that I should always bet on myself. I was my biggest investment and that I should nurture myself. The rent line would be stable and my potential could only grow — all things being equal, of course.

Ever since then I try to remind myself to bet on myself. To believe in myself. To know that I am the ticking that is the bomb. To know that money is actually the prison, not the thing that sets you free. To believe that I can break from third person and rush to first. That I can be the giant.

All this while having lunch at Campo de Fiori.


the gathering kind {part 4}: the nobility of living a quiet life

It must be very beautiful to be finished. When the train rushes into the station, to let the wind blow into your face. Suppose your whole life surges back to you. I try to believe that Harris summoned all the beauty of his life. — Sarah Manguso, The Guardians: An Elegy

Over a telephone line my father tells me about his life. It’s been five years since the day I dropped another line and sprinted twenty blocks to a train to a taxi to a farm where my father nearly lay dying. I remember his face the color of a bruise and the gash still raw from where he smacked his head on the pavement. Standing in his home painted yellow, where swords and feathers festooned the walls, I shook a bottle of pills in my hand. Why didn’t you take them? What do you mean, you forgot? Who wakes up after thirty years and forgets to take their pills? In a small voice, I said You’re killing me. Furious, he told me he didn’t need them anymore, that he had a new plan. He was drinking wheatgrass every day, you see. He was a fit fellow even though everyone around him was dying. And hadn’t he collected me from the train station in Locust Valley — when the sky was a blanket of black and the squirrels ravaged through the trees — and put me into the car when I couldn’t stand from all the drink? Didn’t he put up with the wine lips all those years? My mother, me, difficult women on the road to ruin — he shouldered all of this. A year sober, I leaned against the wall as if it had the ability to buoy me up and I wondered if this was the very definition of retribution.

Sorrow never hides, it just lies dormant. It festers, metastasizes and spreads like sickness. We’ve been here all along, it torments. Here’s our card; we’re in the business of reunion. That night I dreamt of a woman with moths for eyes.

This was the year his boss’ heart stopped and all the horses were sold, when my father was forced out of the home he’d known for ten years. In that moment, when his face was all swollen and his apartment barren, I felt the shackles clasp tight around my ankles. And my body went cold, as if all the power had gone out. There goes the moths fluttering out of your hair. Rewind the tape and I was back to where I’d started: parenting a parent. Mothering without a map. Having to clean up the blood and pack the bags in the car. I needed to say goodbye to all that, so in a restaurant in Long Island I told my father that I was done being a parent. And we didn’t speak for five years. Until now.

It occurs to me that my mother and I had abandoned our cats. Funny the things that linger.

We start by exchanging words between our telephones, not picking up from the place we’d left off but going somewhere new. We both have new jobs and we talk about my mother, how she has a new family now. How she’s a mother to a daughter who has the name I was meant to have. We don’t tread in the waters that were those lost years; we text in present tense.

When we finally gather, it’s like old times. We take comfort in the stories that used to make us laugh. He takes new pills now, blood thinners, and they make his legs hurt. After a few moments I wonder aloud if he should be taking them. We laugh cautiously and press the sentences on. He tells me about his new life, a home beautifully made on a new farm with a family who adores him. When I tell him about Paris, he proudly talks about the aftershave his boss wrapped in tissue. Smiling, I nod into the phone and ask him if he’s happy. My father’s life is uncomplicated and quiet, and this pleases him. And part of me wonders if he aches for the world and everything in it, or if this, this life, is all he ever wanted. Whether he’s content being a man who works on a horse farm, lives in a warm home and takes wheatgrass in the mornings.

When I hung up I realized that there’s nobility in living a quiet, dignified life. My father is possibly the most honest man I know. He is the embodiment of good, and sometimes I feel small against all that goodness. That I was always the ambitious one — I was the savage who wanted the world and every single thing in it. And maybe I judged him for serving as a mirror to a flaw in my character. Maybe this is why we lost all those years. Maybe he and I will talk about it one day.

What I do know is this. When he asked me about my writing, my baking, my life, when he asked me if I was happy, I remember not answering the question. I remember changing the subject. The hand that shook the bottle now shakes the head no.

Remember the photo that your mother took? The one of you with the whisk? Remember that? my father asked once. You looked really happy. When I hang up the phone I whisper to my pop that I’m getting there.

Last week, after French class, I was exhilarated. Practically levitated all the way to Smith Canteen. Ordered a pile of delicious (delicious!) food that I knew I couldn’t eat because it was SO. MUCH. But it felt like home to me. The flaky crust that caved into the sweet pumpkin, the sage mayonnaise on the turkey sandwich and the peppery bite of the sausage biscuit gave me shelter during a time when I’m starting to climb my way out of the betweens.


fletcher’s bbq: brooklyn, new york

Fletcher's BBQ in Brooklyn
Fletcher's BBQ in Brooklyn
Fletcher's BBQ in Brooklyn
Fletcher's BBQ in Brooklyn
Fletcher's BBQ in Brooklyn
Fletcher's BBQ in Brooklyn
Fletcher's BBQ in Brooklyn
Fletcher's BBQ in Brooklyn

Visit Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue for extraordinary eats, because, quite frankly, this food is too beautiful for type. Experience it for yourself. I’m grateful for the fact that they don’t offer delivery service because that would be…problematic.

we all scream for ice-cream: van leeuwen artisanal ice-cream, brooklyn

van leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklyn
There was a time when I was mad for frozen yoghurt. Lock me in a room with a pint of Haagen Daaz coffee and I was golden. And it wasn’t until I set eyes on buckets of whipped cream in a seemingly endless cacophony of colors, it wasn’t until I let the flavor of toasted nuts settle into my tongue, did I fall deliriously in love with artisanal ice-cream.

Believe me when I say that this sort of treat isn’t for the weak of heart or tepid of taste buds, but rather it’s for those who want a deep, enveloping flavor. So if you’re content with your bucket of Baskin Robbins, you may want to turn away. However, if you’re game to make a leap of faith, I implore you to consider this: when it comes to ice-cream, you’d better go big or go home.

Enter Van Leeuwen Artisanal Ice Cream. I first encountered Van Leeuwen in the form of a parked truck on Spring Street. A seemingly serene and astringent treat truck, the Van Leeuwen offered a handful of flavors at a price that seemed princely. Until you wrapped that little spoon around your tongue, because FOR THE LOVE OF PONY is this ice-cream divine. Whether you’re sampling pistachios grown on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily or red currants harvested in Hudson Valley or settling into a spoonful of Oak Barrel Aged Vanilla, you’re guaranteed to feast on a regal dessert worthy of servitude. And that’s just the flavoring. Let’s not forget the hormone-free milk, and a product free of stabilizers, preservatives or the tar gum so ubiquitous in those supermarket tubs.

I often fantasize about owning a bake shop, and when I walked into Van Leeuwen it’s as if my vision had come to pass. A verdant garden, white, soothing decor, and glass windows ushering in the light — this is what makes one take their time with their cup of pistachio greatness. These are the kinds of desserts worth savoring.

van leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklyn
van leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklyn
van leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklynvan leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklyn

eat this now: chocolate layer cake @ the chocolate room, brooklyn

chocolate layer cake @ the chocolate room
chocolate layer cake @ the chocolate room
chocolate layer cake @ the chocolate room

eat here now: appertivo, park slope brooklyn

Appertivo Lunch Consider me a creature of culinary habit. Once I find a eatery worth patroning, I become addicted to it. Typically, it’ll take a crowbar and some Crisco to pry me away from one restaurant in an effort to try another.

I’ve been dining at Appertivo for the past two years, and I am positively and utterly addicted to their fresh linguine pasta with pesto topped with char-grilled chicken. Mind you, I also adore their brunch, where wholesome, multi-grain pancakes are sold amidst crisp turkey bacon and to-die-for home fries, are served. But the crown jewel is solely reserved for their Italian fare. Affordable (most dishes are under $10, and come with a glass of wine), delicious food, quick and friendly service, and an airy, open ambiance make Appertivo one of my preferred Brooklyn eateries.


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