If Memory

If memory is talisman, this I hold in my palm: my father strides, back straight and face serious, to the edge of the pool. It’s a late summer day. Children of other families splash and shout, a cooling breeze chases the sun. My father is sturdy, not fat and not thin, handsome with wavy dark […]

Imposter

Today: “Ms. Rolfe, are you dying?” This isn’t the first time a student has asked me this after I had a coughing fit in class. In fact, I get asked this all the time. Too often. And I’m used to it. But today, I am hanging on by a thread. I have trouble walking up […]

Flash Point

My best friend is buying a house in Upstate New York with her boyfriend. A family friend expects her first child in eight days. I’m twenty-two, and I have never felt more alone. I. “For this was the round of love: fear which leads on desire, tenderness and fury, and that brutal anguish which triumphantly […]

Faith Is What You Have: Reading Photographs with Flannery O’Connor

On the day of my great-aunt Era Mae and great-uncle Alvin’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, I wore my stepfather’s striped, navy tie and—after stopping for breakfast on the drive through North Alabama—a small grease stain on my khaki pants. Over the air conditioner, my grandmother told me I should’ve put a napkin on my lap first. […]

Progress Notes

The first time I visit her, she lies in bed at the far end of the hall where residents with the worst kinds of dementia are placed, where the man in room 308 rigidly slumps in a geri-chair, eyes and mouth open wide as if in a trance, where the wild-haired woman in room 309 […]

Every Man a Fortress

We traded snippets about ourselves when the chaos allowed and found we’d both joined the Corps to make something of ourselves, serve our country, and shoot things—Schnieder wanted to be a Rifleman while I was already slated to be a Machine Gunner. Before enlisting, Schnieder had been a degenerate living in his parents’ basement. I’d […]

Somebody. Still.

I had wanted to be something in the world once. A teaching degree, a Masters degree, and several academic honors hang framed on my study wall. I might have had any number of careers but at twenty-five I made a choice and let the world go on without me: Bedside for my mother’s cancer right […]

Chassis

I knew I was in trouble when the Director asked me to cock my head to the right. “I can’t cock my head to the right. Or the left.” “Just like this.” He cocks his head to the right. But, see, he’s not wearing a fiberglass suit of armor with a helmet attached to the […]

Community

A few weeks before my brain broke, as I waited in a grocery store coffee line, an elderly man in front of me dropped his cane. I focused on it. The cane’s clatter, the man’s shaky stoop, careful and slow as he picked it up. How sad, I thought, the need to link one hand […]

Hollow

I dig my fingers into the pockets of my jacket and tilt my face towards the sun. The sharp wind of fall stings my cheeks. I want to drink in the spaciousness of this place, disappear into the rust red canyon, become the shadows dancing on painted rock. Behind me, there are voices belonging to […]

Nipple Gazing

Nineties Girlhood No one ever praised me for being smart, only for being good. Good meant pretty and quiet, pressed like a flower in the middle of a bell curve. The first time I thought about becoming an adult had nothing to do with ambition but with a yearning to be beautiful. Baywatch was playing […]

Falling—A Mothering (Or, a Tale of Postpartum Depression)

Leaves fluttering down on the grave in the fall, and her ashes. And I’m lying, it wasn’t fall, it was February. But the leaves were real. And it felt like she was supposed to die in the fall. Maybe I read that in a book, saw it in a movie. A girl who goes on […]

When a Neighbor Dies

When I get home from my morning run, there are two police officers hanging around my driveway. They look like babies, plump skin and short bangs under their caps. Barely in their twenties. They stand under our ancient weeping cherry tree, and scant snowflakes flutter down between the tired skeleton branches. It’s not cold enough […]

Are We There Yet?

I imagine my father as a small boy, sitting on stone steps. Chin in hand, he glares at the dry towel and swim trunks he’s thrown beside him. The façade of the Hayward Plunge, a public swimming pool near his Oakland, California home, stands in harsh rebuke. How dare you, it seems to say, Chinese […]

Elvis Has Left the Building

The second I escaped high school, I went to work at my father’s full-line music store in the little corner hovel called the M.I. department, which stood for Musical Instruments. There wasn’t much to do but restock the clarinet reeds and trombone grease, make sure the ¼-size violins had bows in their cases, and dust […]

Down in the River to Pray

This is what I knew: My nephew Benji graduated from drama school. When he crossed the stage to accept his diploma, he wore a sultry Lauren Bacall wig and a cream-colored satin evening gown with padded shoulders. His make-up was perfect, his lips the color of blood and desire. My mother told me he looked […]

The Half-Buttoned Effect

I want to reach out and slide the button back in the buttonhole. She’s standing right in front of me, wearing a light green dress with buttons on the back. A row of buttons, like a dotted line drawn from her nape to a random point halfway down her spine. I count the buttons: one, […]

Nothing Beats a Beergut Breakfast

After I pass through security, I’ll have left them. Beergut, Special Son, and I hang out in a loose triangle several feet away from the glass doors. Nothing left to say or do, the time of my flight to Seoul heavy and ticking. I avoid Beergut’s icy gaze, look to metal crossbeams. The airport houses […]

Home is Home

The car goes around a bend. The windows are up, the air cool, and we are hemmed in from every angle by the afternoon sun. In the back seat, my mother clasps my palm, as though to assure herself that I am really here. We ease onto IBB Way. On either side, the town lies […]

A Few More Miles

It never gets easier, you just go faster. —Greg LeMond After my father’s stroke, after months of rehab, after coming to terms with the fact that the blind spot on his right side—his lost peripheral vision—was the new normal, his doctor told him he couldn’t ride his bicycle. Last fall he had aortic valve replacement […]

Party of One

“Wo shi yi ge ren.” Chinese for I am alone. Party of one. In English the phrase sounds celebratory: you’re alone, but hey, it’s still a party. Chinese lacks that aura of metaphorical festivity. You just count. One. I contemplate counting as I report my solitary number to the hostess at a restaurant in Suzhou, […]

Counter Intuitive

The cop that wrote me up for trying to use a fake ID at an Ocean City bar was wearing yellow-striped shorts, an embarrassing reality that defused any grand aspirations of mine to spin the tale into one of proud delinquency. Where that cop is today, I do not know, and he does not know […]

A Box of Chocolates in China

I cling to the back of a motorcycle, my hair wild in the wind, arms clenched around the slim waist in front. I am flying through the night, lights winking as we buzz around bumper-to-bumper traffic in a Chinese city of three million. Have I lost my mind, never having been on a cycle in […]

Preparing a Place

I am looking for someone. On the subway. At the hospital. Walking the sticky streets of the in-town neighborhood where I live in the shadowy, noirish, lost-dog summer nights. It takes me a long time to realize what I am supposed to be doing. Two years, maybe. In my self-involved twenty-something way, I consider two […]

I’ve Never Touched One

The year was 1993 and I was eight months pregnant and trapped in an elevator with an unstable guy who was rumored to have murdered his wife. I wanted to get out, but thought it would be rude, since I’d already told him I was going to the top floor for something to eat. Mr. […]

Taking the Edge Off

  IT’S BEEN A LOVELY DAY (EVEN IF I DID WANT TO KILL MYSELF) “I find that being in a family is the most excruciating possible way to be alive.” —Anne Enright, The Gathering Greetings all, After a pleasant Thanksgiving with Mom and my siblings where he won all the after-dinner games, my father suffered a […]

Boiler Rat

The power plant loomed out of the morning blackness, hulking above the Iowa corn fields like some menacing, malevolent, medieval castle. It was surrounded by trees in soft fall colors, planted there in an attempt to showcase it as environmentally friendly and to soften its sharp square lines; but you can’t hide that much ugly. […]

What Goes Around

“What is this place?” my father asked. “It’s Seattle, Dad,” I said. “From up high.” Lunch for two at the Space Needle’s revolving restaurant had seemed like a good idea when I’d wrested him away from his wife, Donna, that clear summer day. I’d hoped he’d be able to point out the marina where he’d […]

Panic at Twenty-four Frames Per Second

Dead Birds is a documentary about the aboriginal people of New Guinea. Behavior Modification shows early attempts to treat autism. Orange is an erotic film in which a man peels and eats an orange. Slowly. I worked my way through undergraduate school as a film projectionist […]

The Housekeeper’s Daughter

My brain is starting to unravel. It’s gone bad. I can feel everything loosen up, softening, rippling under the inverted moonlight of my eyes. It’s really gone bad. I’m starting to see the big picture now, and I’m not sure what it is—blurred candy shadows, a scorched candlewick, the skin of eggshells, a smile in […]