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In the words of the pop singer, Meredith Brooks, “I hate the world today.” Which is odd because I’ve been sitting alone in my housesince the kids got on the bus. I’ve exchanged some emails, had a lovely chat with a super helpful sales agent (he restored my faith that customer service is not, in fact, an oxymoron), put away some laundry and wrote a whole bunch.

What’s there to be grumpy about? NIGHT BLINDNESS is in bookstores and selling well, SCAR TISSUE is all but done (just waiting to hear back from my editor). The first draft of book three is complete and I started book four. And, I have a job where I don’t have to leave my house and get stay in my jammies. Although it’s miserably cold outside, I’ve been inside  since waving goodbye to my kids as they happily filed onto the school bus and found seats with their friends.

So what’s my problem? I could tell you, but it’s stupid and petty and I’ll get over it. The real issue is that as of three twenty three this afternoon when my kids get home, I’m going to have to be happy. Just suck it up, you tell me. Well, I wish I could. But, despite being told by an “expert” in the field that Ainsley cannot pick up on social cues, she is the most empathetic, tuned-in person I have ever known. If I’m in a bad mood, but smile and hug her when she comes home, even before I speak, she will ask me what’s wrong. I’ll give the “expert” this- Ainsley might sometimes ask why I’m sad when my real emotion is one of murderous annoyance, but the kid’s pretty sharp.

My foul mood has nothing to do with my kids. So I will be genuinely happy to see them. But, they’re both extremely perceptive, so at some point in our twenty-seven minute drive to the ponies, I’m going to have to answer them when they ask what’s wrong. Coop is ten and Ainsley is nine, so I have to watch my mouth. They’re pretty cool kids. They’ve heard every curse word known to man and a few that my dad made up. They actually converse back and forth with adults. But, I don’t think the answer to, “What’s wrong, Mommie?” should be, “I f***ing hate people, sweetie.” So, for their sake, I will sing along to the radio and put on a smiley face that they will know is complete BS.

It’s everybody else who I will encounter today that is bringing me angst. For example, I know the second I’m a bit short with someone over four and a half feet tall, I’ll get the third degree. You may have read enough of my blogs to know the following about me- I’m not nice enough to make things up so that  others feel good about themselves. That statement, of course, excludes my children. For them, I would do anything- including chit chatting with the skinny, pretty moms in this town who I never call by name because they all look alike to me. Oh- the things that must be done to score playdates. But, if a grown up asks what’s wrong, and I tell him or her that I’m grumpy, why can’t we just leave it at that? Suffice it to say, if you’re the reason I’m pissy, you’ll hear about it. If you just happen to be in the same general space as me, then could you please leave me alone?

Does anyone respect the completely insincere phrase “I’m fine”?  Everybody knows that whoever says they are fine most certainly is not. But, we should all know by now that “I’m fine” is also code for “Please leave me alone before I bite your f***ing head off.” My philosophy- if I tell you I’m fine, even if it’s clear that I’m not, I cannot be held responsible for my actions if you continue to poke the bear by asking said furry, grouchy animal what’s the matter or telling the beast with the killer claws that she doesn’t look fine. Take if from the bear- move on.

Would it kill the world to take a page from Kurt’s book? He always tells me I don’t even have to talk. My expressions say it all. He can tell before he opens the garage door if the answer to any question he might ask is going to be, “I’m fine.” In that case, he bypasses speaking to me altogether, fills a plastic Dora cup with wine straight from the box, sticks a bendy straw in it, opens my office door just wide enough to fit a plastic Dora cup through it, slides it in, closes the door and tells me he loves me through the safety of an inch and a half of wood.

I’m not asking the chipper moms on the playground to drive around with alcohol in their cars. Nor do I want the after-school activities people to give me a wide berth. All I’m asking for is the right to be silently grumpy without having anyone trying to fix my bad mood or worry that they caused it.

And once again, I am reminded why I’m a writer. After taking a fifteen minute break from novel number four to get my ya –yas out (as Ainsley would say), I feel so much better. Although writing doesn’t bring me wine the way my unbelievably kind and tolerant husband does, like him, it always makes me feel better. So, for now, the bear has gone back into hibernation.

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Being a novelist, I work from home, usually in my pajamas with a cat on my lap and Van Morrison playing in the background. I know- I’m very glamorous. When the tiny black letters on my screen seem like they’re melting together, I know I need a break. Sometimes I take a walk (to the refrigerator). Other times I fold laundry (not really). But, usually, I’ll surf on the Internet for a few minutes where I inevitably find articles written by cheerful, pretty moms wearing flowered capris and pink sweaters tied around their shoulders.

It’s the morbid fascination similar to slowing down to look at an accident that makes me click on those pages. I know what I’m going to get, but I can’t stop myself: How to create my own Thanksgiving Day Mayflower replica centerpiece made from two-thousand tiny twigs plucked from the expertly manicured trees in my yard or maybe someone named Betts will explain the forty-seven easy steps to assembling personalized, embroidered throw pillows that my perfectly well-behaved children would never dream of throwing at each other. If I get really lucky, I might stumble across a self-proclaimed super mom demonstrating how quickly and painlessly she and her seven superior offspring produced sixty-six hand-painted place cards for the sixty-six delightful guests they’re having over for a delicious and nutritious Thanksgiving cage-free, sugar-free, homemade, artificial-free, taste free, cardboard dinner.

I get it- genetically engineered, mammoth vegetables probably aren’t good for us. Sugar makes us fat. And too much sun will be the death of us all. But really? I can’t trot down to HomeGoods with fifteen dollars in my pocket and pick up a cute centerpiece that will last for more than one day? Do I need to spend all my extra time when I’m not writing, blogging, cooking, chauffeuring to playdates and cleaning pony tack learning calligraphy for the formal, sit-down brunches I will never host? Okay- let me stop right there. I am not super mom. And when I’m not writing, blogging, cooking, chauffeuring to playdates and cleaning pony tack, sometimes I like to do, wait for it… nothing. I don’t want to be covered in glitter and cutting out tiny pieces of felt when I’m not busy doing something that absolutely has to get done.

Truth be told, I might have a minor case of sour grapes. I’d love to convert extra toilet paper tubes into Independence Day rockets. It’d be fabulous if I could use a glue gun without cementing my fingers to the table (thank goodness for nail polish remover). My kids would be thrilled if I could stencil a mural in their bedrooms (okay, that one might be a lie). I’d really, really like to be handy enough or talented enough or determined enough to accomplish all the tasks that Perky Piper not only blogs about but also does on a regular basis. But, I’m just not that… that.

While the creators of just about every mommy blog I’ve ever read are making adorable handmade invitations for holiday parties, I’m sending out evites for another Streckerfest Free For All. My idea of fun is not to crack a rib while I stuff myself into a pair of Spanx and then put on my fancy dresses for my fancy friends. For any gathering that happens during warm weather, we fire up the grill and have a barbecue in the backyard. Shoes and nice clothes are not permitted. For Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Super Bowl, we pretend we’re outside and cram as many friends as we can into the gathering room, throw a turkey in the oven or a pot of chili on the stove and eat on ottomans, couches and the floor.

Carefully painted eggs lovingly shaped into the circle of life have no place at our Easter cookout. The only tablecloths I break out on Mother’s Day are cheap plastic ones I throw down so the kids can paint, um, each other without making too much of a mess. Thanksgiving is loud, messy and sooner or later we all lie on the floor and unbutton our jeans to make room for dessert. We’re not fancy people. And at least in the craft department, I most certainly am not a do it yourselfer. But, if Perky Piper and Blogging Betts peered in our window on any given holiday or a random weekend, they’d spy a Streckerfest Free For All in full force- happy messy kids, adults in comfy clothes and all of us spending quality time with the people we love the most. I’m pretty sure my family would take that over a hand-trimmed topiary nativity scene any day of the week.

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I get asked a lot what inspired me to write NIGHT BLINDNESS. I am truthful in my answer when I explain my father was terminally ill and I began writing as a way to work through my grief. What I have not said is that I needed to write this book, both as a way to honor my dad and to have something to hold on to. Writing was a life preserver in the deep end of the ocean, oxygen in an airless space. Although the end product is an entirely different novel than what I began in a dimly-lit hospital room in Baltimore, every word I wrote was for my dad.

People say it’s not healthy to hold on to the dead and sooner or later, we have to move on. I will never let go of my father. Waking every morning and knowing it may have been my last with him was like being trapped under a thousand pound boulder. It crushed my lungs. It was impossible to breathe. Worse than that, I didn’t want to. I was staring down the barrel of life without him, and there were times when it was just too much. Writing NIGHT BLINDNESS gave me an outlet for my grief, something positive to focus on. Hospitals, MRIs, steroids, surgeons, radiation oncologists and the swift knowledge that my dad, who was fifty-eight when he was diagnosed, only had months to live consumed me. It literally ate me. I lost a scary amount of weight. I kept getting skinnier and just didn’t care. The great love of my life proposed and while I didn’t quite say no, I definitely didn’t say yes. I was going down and I loved him too much to take him with me.

The problem with grief is that there’s no getting away from it. All I could do was hold onto the helm and weather the storm. While this tempest will last forever, perhaps it has taken on a new form, the way rain turns to snow. One’s not better than the other, they’re just different. As my grief began to morph from one shape to another, I found I could breathe a little. So I started writing again. This time it wasn’t with the sole intent of outrunning my grief for one more day. Now I was able to say goodbye and thank you to the characters who had held my hand and sat with me when all I could do was cry and throw shoes at the wall. I wrote about what I felt for my dad. I paid tribute to him by creating a love between father and daughter that was so huge, it needed to be told. I wrote about family and love and regret and lost chances and the haunting question, what could have been? I will never let go of my dad. But, now, moving forward, I have created something for him, for us that I will keep with me.

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I don’t recognize people and it’s not because I’m not observant. I pay close attention to my surroundings, as every situation has the potential to end up as a scene in a book. My memory is freaky good. I know what you’re thinking- how good can it be if I can’t identify people I’ve met before? Let me demonstrate. I remember the day I got my driver’s license (August 25th, 1987) was a Tuesday. I can recite all thirty-two NFL teams and their starting quarterbacks (go on, quiz me. I dare you). I remember the Friends episode from 1995 where Brooke Shields licked Joey’s hand at dinner (that one might have stuck with me because there are a few special people I’d like to lick. And if Brooke’s character, Erika Ford, can do it, in a restaurant, in a burgundy dress, there’s hope for me). I wasn’t kidding. My memory rarely fails me.

So why don’t I recognize people? I wish I could tell you. It’s extremely inconvenient not to be able to retrieve someone’s name or even know who they are. It makes introductions awkward. Small talk is difficult when I can’t figure out if I know the person from my kids’ school or riding or maybe through a friend of a friend.

But, like many others with deficits, I have developed coping strategies. If someone who seems to know me is wearing breeches and boots, it’s a safe bet they’re from the horse world. If they are super fit and extremely bendy, he or she is probably one of Kurt’s friends.

So when I ran into a woman in the parking lot of Essex Elementary School, I banked on her being a fellow parent. She clearly knew me, as the first thing she said was that she’d seen me on TV. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t recall her name or exactly who she was. But, I definitely knew her… from somewhere. Unfortunately, after our initial greeting, she dove straight into critiquing me.

The more she talked, the less convinced I was that she was an EES parent. We have a great group of kids and an equally wonderful bunch of parents. I couldn’t imagine one of them would tell me I might want to try wearing make-up next time I’m on TV and that I was fidgety. Although, come to think of it, a different woman who is very definitely an EES parent informed me that she was too busy to come to my “little book thingy.” She was referring to the launch party for NIGHT BLINDNESS where more than two-hundred people turned out to show their support. Crap-could they have been the same person? That’s another thing that happens, everyone looks alike to me. Imagine sifting through a shoebox of out-of-focus pictures, in the dark, trying to identify the people in the photos. I’m not being flippant here. It’s slightly terrifying when I’m talking to two people who I know share no physical similarities, but they still look the same to me.

So, we chatted for a few minutes about how she watched my Fox interview in the middle of her daily two hour run on the treadmill. Lord knows I’m no super model, but this lady might need to rethink her workout regime if this is what she has to show for twelve miles of running every day. Anyway, she checked her watch and informed me she was late. Kudos to you, mystery woman, for using my method of escaping people who I am mentally done talking to.

It was only after she was safely inside the school that it clicked who she was. I always say I’m impossible to offend unless you are mean to my kids. While this twinkie wasn’t overtly nasty, she did grossly underestimate Ainsley. In my book, that’s a much bigger sin than unkind words. I briefly thought about trying to catch her in the foyer and punching her in the face. There’s not a jury in the world who’d convict me if they knew what she’d done. But, alas, the door closed behind her and she was gone.

Had I known who I was speaking to, I might not have been so sweet. Even after she pointed out my lack of looking like a girl on TV, I continued to smile and play nice. Small town living has taught me that everyone knows someone who knows you and most of the time, Kevin Bacon has nothing on us. Never mind six degrees of separation. It’s bordering on an incestuous two degrees. So, I held my tongue and missed a perfect opportunity for payback. So for once, whatever disconnect is going on in the facial recognition part of my brain worked to my advantage. It kept the woman’s nose intact and my arrest record clean.

I’ve never been one to subscribe to the ridiculous belief that everything happens for a reason. It’s a cop out at best and a scapegoat at worst. But, perhaps something good finally came out of me never knowing who the hell I’m talking to. If I’d broken my hand rearranging her face, typing this blog would have been challenging.  And, the principal who is a good guy but also a mandated reporter would have felt obligated to call the police. That might have put a damper on our morning drop-off pleasantries.

So, in the spirit of being able to chat at the front doors of school without the ugly scars of handcuffs reminding me that it’s not polite to assault people, it turned out okay that I didn’t recognize that woman until it was too late. But consider yourself warned, treadmill lady. If we cross paths again off school grounds, I’m pretty sure I’ll remember you. You and your nose might want to run far and run fast.

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The other night I had dinner with one of my oldest friends. This is a man I’ve known since I was sixteen. Needless to say, he’s been around for some pretty big events in my life- college graduation, marriage, babies, and a few career changes.

I haven’t seen him in more than a year, so I was excited to share with him yet another milestone, the news of the release of my debut novel, NIGHT BLINDNESS. This is kinda how it went:

Me: My debut novel was published a few weeks ago. I still can’t believe this is real.

Him: What makes you think you’re a writer?

Me: Uh, I signed a deal with one of the biggest and best publishing houses in the country?

Him: Well, I’ve never seen you write anything.

Me: You’ve also never seen me poop. Doesn’t mean I don’t do it.

Him: (scoffs) I guess since you don’t have a job now, this will be a good hobby.

Me: (gulps the rest of my drink) Excuse me, Mary? May we please get another bottle of wine over here? And a straw?

Don’t get me wrong, this man is a good soul. He’s exactly the friend I would call if I ran out of gas at three in the morning. Or landed in the pokey for assaulting someone who insulted my children. Or my career. That is one of the reasons I was baffled that he was so dismissive of something for which I’ve worked so hard. It was my good upbringing that prevented me from telling him how much my advance was. Or how rare it is for a debut novelist to get signed for two books. Or that my novel went to auction and five houses bid on it. Or that about one in a hundred thousand people who submit manuscripts to agents end up getting published.

What, I ask you, would have been the right thing to do here? My first instinct was to tell him to shut the F up. But, I was pretty sure he was going to pay for dinner, and I do love a free meal. My second thought was to defend myself, my writing and my career (if this is a hobby, I need to stop working so hard). But, I was afraid that would validate his perception that writing isn’t a serious sport. So, I kept my yap shut and took his unwarranted and completely surprising abuse.

In twenty-seven years of friendship, this guy and I have never exchanged cross words. True- we only get together about once a year. We have horses in common. So, our dinners usually revolve around chatting about which shows I’ve been to, how our mutual friends are doing and me showing him endless pictures of my kids (in case he missed them all on Facebook). He is sweet, funny, and genuine. It’s never been in his character to be mean.

So what should I have done with him? In a very un-me move, I decided to let it slide. Don’t worry, I’m not going rogue and dipping my toe in the nice pool. Yes, my friend said cruel things to me, but he said them in such a lovely tone, while pouring an overpriced bottle of Italian cabernet, it made me think that he had no idea just what a penis face he was being.

While keeping quiet was the magnanimous thing to do, I’m not sure it was the right thing. It’s been almost a week since our dinner, and I’m bothered enough to write about it. Clearly my feelings are still hurt. I can’t say for certain that if I ran into said friend on the street, I would be pleasant. At this moment, I’m totally okay with not seeing him again for another year. So perhaps if not the right thing, maybe the healthy choice would have to been to tell him how I felt. I learned in graduate school that no one can make me feel a certain way, in fact, I choose to feel or react the way I do. In the spirit of making my advisors proud, I will own feeling insulted. I will also own feeling like a fool for not telling my friend to F off while I had the chance

Like I said, we are close enough that I will get over this and he will be none the wiser. But, I will continue to wonder if it would have been a better choice to get my ya-yas out while I was trying to figure out how to turn the bottle of wine and my straw into an IV. No doubt seeing the look on his face after politely asking him to shut the F up would have been worth any uncomfortable moments that may have followed. My friend is a good enough sport and a nice enough guy that he probably would have been shocked, then laughed and finally apologized.

Most of you probably think that I did the right thing by showing rare restraint. However, after much mulling over of the subject, I’ve come to believe that I was wrong by not telling my dinner companion exactly how I felt. True- I could have worded it in a softer way than what I was thinking, but that’s not really my style.

However, while taking a break from writing this to check email, I discovered that NIGHT BLINDNESS has been selected by the Indie Booksellers to be an IndieNext pick. This means even more exposure for the product of my so-called hobby. Perhaps I’ll have to mail my friend some of the fliers so he can see where my frivolous use of time has gotten me. And if that doesn’t impress him, perhaps the next time he’s rude, I will tell him to shut the F up.

 

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I told a roomful of mandated reporters at my kids’ school that I was going to punch the mother of a bully in the face. Assuming I was joking, they laughed nervously and didn’t call the police. I wasn’t kidding. Bullying is a problem, even in lovely and quaint towns like mine.

My daughter, Ainsley, is extremely naïve and overly trusting. For her, it’s a blurry line between fitting in and being led astray. Fortunately, her big brother, Cooper, represents all that is good and decent in the world. He loves his little sister and looks out for her.

Last winter, an older girl took Ainsley’s brand new hat and wore it off the bus. Ainsley, who cannot fathom that another person could have cruel intentions, didn’t say anything to the girl (we’ll call her Madison). However, Cooper witnessed the incident and told me as soon as they got home. Furious, I drove to the girl’s house while I called her mom.

Madison’s mother told me there was no way her daughter would do that and that Ainsley must have forgotten the hat at school. I informed her that I was sitting outside her house looking at said hat on her lawn. (I left it there to prove my case. I was ready to call CSI and dust it for prints.)

While she was still making excuses for her kid, I spied her peeking out the kitchen window. The hat was in plain sight, and suddenly she changed her tune. She went from raising her voice and blaming Ainsley to finding some humility. Hmm, let’s see if I have this straight. The kid lied about taking the hat and her mother was beyond indignant right up until she got busted. By then, I could hear the little brat crying, not because she was sorry. But because she was sorry she got caught. Can you say Tiger Woods?

Months later, a different girl told Ainsley to pull another child’s hair. While Ainsley should have known better than to do that, the older girl eventually admitted she chose Ainsley because she thought she could manipulate her into doing something wrong. In some ways, Ainsley isn’t like her classmates. It doesn’t occur to her that certain kids are mean.

Now, this case is a little different because I have a history (and not a happy one) with this kid’s mother. So, I didn’t think twice about calling her and reporting what her kid had done. She was less defensive than the first mother, which at first surprised me, but then I realized that she knows her daughter is a mean girl.

My best friend’s daughter is as much a part of my family as my own kids. So, when she got bullied right out of the public school system into a private school, I took it personally. My BFF is much nicer than me and never confronted the mother of her daughter’s bully. Bella used to tell my friend’s daughter that she couldn’t sit with her and her friends at lunch, she’d push her gym mat away from hers and point out that her winter boots weren’t Uggs.

Where, I ask you, do children learn this kind of behavior? I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist (or I was in my last life before I started writing about people’s oddities instead of trying to treat them) and I learned long ago that normal isn’t normal. Normal is what we know. It’s what our families teach us. I guess it’s possible that these girls could have been nice if only they’d had better role models.

I tell my kids all the time that I’d lie down in front of a fast moving train for them. I don’t think they’ll truly understand the enormity or the sincerity of that statement until they have kids of their own. They take it to mean that I’m a fierce mama bear who will do anything for her cubs. Included is keeping them company when they can’t sleep, getting in cold tubs with them when they have high fevers, holding their heads while they barf, pretending I know how to do their homework, and a million other things that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Also on that list- I will forever confront their bullies and their bullies’ parents.

It’s becoming increasingly and horrifyingly clear to me that kids learn how to be bullies at home- if not by mirroring unacceptable behavior, then by the inaction of their parents. So, as I already warned the principal of my kids’ school, I will punch the parents of bullies in their faces and feel good about it. Then I’ll go home, ice my hand, wait for the swelling to go down, and write about them.


 

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I’ve  been a published novelist for eight days. People keep asking me how I feel. Hmm, let’s see. I guess I feel like I can’t wear pajamas all the time anymore since every now and again I have to be seen in public For instance, last Monday I did an interview for WTNH’s Connecticut Style TV Show. Before the segment, my good friend, Brittain, called her friend who regularly appears on national TV for her job. She was nice enough to send me a list of helpful hints intended to make my appearance go more smoothly.

Unfortunately her suggestions terrified me. There wasn’t anything unreasonable on her list, such as speaking in a British accent to make myself sound smarter or answering questions with questions to keep the conversation going. On the contrary, she provided a thoughtful list of tips that would have benefitted someone more like Brittain (she’s sophisticated and has her s*** together). If I wanted someone more my speed to give advice, I probably should have asked Mama June of Honey Boo Boo fame. Anyway, included on the list were the following:

  • Wear nude heels to elongate my leg. Um, let me back up here. The fact that I was a guest on a TV show called Connecticut Style is nothing short of ironic. If you’ve read my blog titled A Bright Orange Buoy in a Sea of Beautiful, you know that fashion isn’t my thing. Needless to say, nude heels do not live in my closet. They don’t even live in my imagination. My choices were pretty much black riding boots or pink flip flops.
  • Wear a DVF dress. This one made my brain hurt. I grew up in the NASCAR world, so the only abbreviations I’m familiar with are STP and RPM. Oh, and NASCAR, I guess. I googled it, came up empty, and finally my friend Bobby filled me in. Turns out DVF doesn’t stand for Don’t Vomit, F***face (I thought maybe the dress was made of plastic), but Diane von Furstenberg.
  • Don’t move my hands. No problem. I’m Italian, so I’ll stop talking with my hands right after I cut them off.
  • Never, never, never look at the camera. I thought that would be easy until I got to the TV station and there were six cameras pointed at the set.
  • Cross my legs at the ankle and point my knees away from the interviewer. I actually practiced this at home. Every time I hooked my feet together, my knees opened like I was a drunk girl at a frat party.
  • Have a stylist meet me at my house an hour before departure time. Believe me, it takes more than an hour to make me look like a girl, which is why I never do. I pretended I didn’t even see that directive until I got to her last suggestion which was…
  • Make sure a professional does my hair or I will look (and I quote) crazy on TV. At this point, I accepted defeat. Fortunately for me, I rock the crazy look.

So this is how Monday morning went: I dug a pair of plain black slides out of the bottom of my closet, wiped off the mud (they had clearly made a guest appearance at a horse show), and managed to find black pants that I wished were plastic because I was afraid I might poop myself. I styled my hair in the least crazy manner I could, rummaged for makeup, found dried up mascara, threw it away, settled for Chapstick in lieu lipstick, tried one more time to cross my ankles without looking like a hooker and then drove to New Haven.

I got there, met the lovely staff and waited my turn (still trying to master the ankle cross). Once I sat down with the beautiful and perfectly put together Teresa Dufour, I ran down the list of pointers Brittain’s friend had sent me. Positive I had committed everything to memory, I took my seat and a deep breath and was ready… right up until the cameras started recording and Teresa began asking questions I should have been able to answer without thinking about them.

As she was introducing me (even I was impressed with me after listening to her), I crossed my clunky slides, jammed my knees together in such a way that made my hips ache immediately, pointed said knees away from Teresa, swiveled my upper body so I could see her, craned my neck to make sure I wasn’t looking into any of the giant cameras staring at me and clasped my hands together so hard I thought I broke a finger.

Then the rapid-fire questions began. Okay, she spoke slowly and eloquently, I just couldn’t think fast enough to keep up with her. She started with an easy one: How did I make the transition from my past career to becoming a novelist. For once in my life, my filter wasn’t malfunctioning. I was thinking, I quit my last job because I F-ing hated it. But, I managed to say something politically correct (and true) about wanting to be home with my kids, and then having some time to write once they started school.

Next she asked if the book has any truth to it. Um, well, the main character, Jensen, is a tall, skinny, black-haired beauty who models in the nude for artists. Yeah, no. Just no.

A few questions later she asked if my own upbringing influenced the book being set on the Connecticut shoreline. I originally had the novel taking in Baltimore, but I caved to editor pressure and changed it to New England.

Although the interview only lasted five and a half minutes, it felt like five and a half hours. The best part of my time on camera was concentrating on Teresa’s pretty face since I wasn’t allowed to look anywhere else. At the end, I thanked her for having me on her fabulous show and sat beside the next guest. Feeling like it went better than it could have, I smiled at her, hoping for a little atta girl. She looked me up and down, then brought me back to reality by saying, “Next time you might want to smile. And take a Quaalude.”

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Whoever said time heals all wounds never had a brother die four days after his twenty-second birthday. Whoever said you have to get over losing someone clearly has never lost anyone. This month, in twelve days to be exact, it will be twenty-four years since my brother, Robbie, died. I’ve lived longer without him than I lived with him. That is a fact that only gets harder, never easier.

Van Morrison put it best when he wrote a song called Melancholia. I don’t know any of the words other than, “Every single day, it won’t go away. Melancholia.” The month of September is not my friend. Rob’s birthday is on the 26th. The anniversary of his death is the 30th. I have all year to prepare for these thirty terrible days. And I’ve had twenty-four years of practice. You’d think I’d get good at it. I haven’t and I won’t.

Trying to appease the people who say I need to get over losing Robbie and move on, I think about the positives that September brings. My kids go back to school, and back to their friends at a school that I feel loves them almost as much as I do. My mom, grandmother and husband all have birthdays this month. It’s the start of my favorite season- not autumn, but football.

And you know what all that means when I’m having a day like today? Nothing. I don’t love celebrating Kurt’s birthday any less. I was grateful and honored to spend Grammie’s ninety-ninth birthday with her. I enjoyed hanging out with my mom at her birthday dinner. The Broncos are 2-0. My kids’ teachers are kind and their friends are awesome. So I will put all that in the happy pile.

But just out of reach, to the left, is the I-hate-living-without-my-brother pile. He was twenty-two. A rock star. Everybody’s everything. At his funeral one of the founders of NASCAR called him one of the best young drivers that ever was. And then, in the middle of the night, in an instant, he was gone. Just gone.

I remember what I was wearing when my mother and grandmother showed up in my dorm room to take me home. I remember refusing to leave campus because I had a French test. I remember getting to Connecticut and calling my best friend to tell her that I needed her to come home. She was already on the phone with her mom who was telling her what had happened. I remember crying with Sasha. I remember crying so much that I thought I’d never stop.

I’ve been crying for twenty-four years.

What have I learned in these last twenty-four years? Grief doesn’t go away. It certainly doesn’t get better. It just gets different. I probably don’t cry as much as I used to (although right now it doesn’t seem that way). I get through a day here and there without thinking about Rob. I absolutely don’t go a day without missing him. Not crying every day and not having him constantly on my mind is better, right?

It’s really not.

In the “Who Am I” section of my website, I describe the time after my brother died as waking up and feeling like I was breathing water instead of air. While I go for longer stretches of time now being able to breathe, when I do experience that feeling of drowning, it crushes me. That time softens the sharp edges of grief is more like a practical joke than a gift. Just when I get kind of good at going about my life without having my brother’s absence smack the crap out of me on a daily basis, something trips me up. Sometimes it’s a song or seeing one of his friends. And once a year it’s the flipping month of September. Because I’ve had a little respite from the constant beating, it sucks twice as bad, hits me a million times harder, and continues to kick me when I’m down.

Grief is a quick bitch and there’s no outrunning her. So I must sit with my grief. I don’t try to distract myself. I don’t keep myself busy. For these thirty days I wait for my kids to get on the bus, and then I sit alone in an empty house, with my grief. Without my brother. And I feel his absence like a draft. It makes me cold. The kind of cold-in-the-bones chill that I cannot escape.

Sometimes I go back to the two piles- one of happiness. One of sorrow. I know how fortunate I am. I have a good man who’s loved me for the last eighteen years. My children are the light in my life. I have great friends, a job that I love, my mother and grandmother. Still, the happy pile does not lessen the sad pile. It doesn’t take away my grief. It doesn’t discount it. I sit between the two piles and know that they will continue to co-exist, quite possibly, forever.

The best I can do is hold on to the helm and weather this storm named September. I will sit with my grief and love my children. I will miss my brother and enjoy Sundays with football and friends. I will cry for thirty days straight and understand on the thirty-first day, it will begin to get different. Not better, but just different again.

I will mourn life without Robbie and love the life I have.

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I have officially turned into my mother, which for the most part is a good thing. She’s smart, sweet, caring and she raised a great kid (my brother was awesome).

But, she also buys presents months before birthdays and Christmas and puts them in a safe place. Then she loses them. My birthday is in June and I’ve gotten bathing suits and beach totes for Christmas.

Months before my best friend’s birthday, I one upped my mom by finding Sasha the perfect present (I won’t say what it is in case she reads this) wrapping it and putting it away for safe keeping. Then I became my mother by losing it.

After a meticulous search of all the usual hiding spots, I gave up, piled my kids, Cooper and Ainsley, in the car and went downtown.

We live in an upscale Connecticut River town filled with two-hundred year old houses, lovely families and beautiful women. We have a large percentage of runners in our town (I watch them jog by from my couch). Spin classes at the local health clubs are filled with moms who are at school pick up (or so says my neighbor). And families crowd the Farmer’s Market selecting organic fruits and vegetables (I watch them from across the street at the ice cream shop).

I brush my hair when I have to, live in yoga pants (they’re much classier than sweatpants) and have given up trying to make my kids look like they model for Crew Cuts. When we ventured downtown to find another perfect present, Cooper was sporting a comfy pair of sweats with a Demarco Murray jersey, Ainsley was decked out in her best pair of pink pony PJs and I was donning a beautiful pair of black yoga pants with a stylish drawstring. We were a bright orange buoy in a sea of perfect families in our old-fashioned, New England town.

In our area, three towns combine to form one school and recreation system. Our town, let’s call it One, is presumed by some to be the most desirable, followed by its quaint neighbor, Two, and lastly Three. I love Three. It’s got one of the greatest musters in the country, a beautiful downtown area, and some of our closest friends live there. But, some people think of Three as One’s less glamorous step sister.

We chose One not because of its prestige (see above references to my lack of grooming or dressing), but because it has a phenomenal school system and our house is conveniently located across the street from my best friend of thirty-plus years. Remember Sasha? This started out as a tale about Sasha (anyone forty-something like me out there get the “Alice’s Restaurant” reference?).

When my kids and I wandered into a nice jewelry store, the owner tried hard not to frown when he was greeted by Mama Scruff and her Baby Scruffies, then too politely asked where we were visiting from. Somehow I refrained from correcting his grammar. “We live just down the road,” I told him.

“Oh,” he nodded knowingly, “you’re from Three.” While all these towns are small and close together, I wouldn’t describe Three as just down the road.

“I love Three. But no. We actually live a mile from your fine store. It’s a great day for a walk.” I hoped he hadn’t spotted my muddy car in the parking lot.

I swear to you, he took a step back as if he’d just heard the most surprising, horrifying news of his life. “One? Where in One could you possibly live?”

I almost busted into an air-banjo version of the theme song from Deliverance (Come on, sing it with me, Dah ding ding ding ding, ding ding ding.). This is where it gets really fun. Unbeknownst to my shabby-chicless family when we moved here, we’d apparently chosen to live in the fancy part of town. “Ocean Road,” I told him.

“Ocean what?”

“Road. Ocean Road.” By this time, I’d been standing at the desk with my credit card in hand for several minutes waiting for him to ring me up.

He took my card and studied it for a moment, as if deciding if it were stolen. “What number?”

“Seriously?” I thought about it for a moment. “666.”

He ran my card and hurried us out of the store.

Twenty minutes later, as we were buying ice cream, I realized the shopkeeper hadn’t given me back my credit card.

Getting dressed the next day, I briefly considered blow drying my hair and putting on a nice pair of pants with a stylish cardigan before returning to the underworld to fetch my credit card. While I live in a pretty town with beautifully decorated storefronts and beautifully decorated women, I will always be like the game Imus’ sidekick, Bernard McGurk, plays. Which Doesn’t Belong and Why?

That would be me. Because I’m me. And, probably, because I’m a writer. And writers are a little weird. We don’t always fit in, we’re on the fringe, observing. That’s what makes us the eyes of the world. We tend to stand on the sidelines. So, I took my credit card from the guy and smiled sweetly. Someday, I thought, I’ll put you in a novel. And it might not be pretty.

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