The Cat Mold

The calendar moved on, and I wasn’t. This is a reference to the first “day program” I attended.


All that winter I cried myself to sleep every night. I drove to Rise in the cold dark of the morning and returned home in the gray sunlight of a nowhere afternoon. I sat across from Flora in tears during our sessions. The jewelry workshop ended and with it my connection to the outside world.

A guy from Rise had a father who owned an Italian restaurant, and he invited us to dinner there. It was all I could do to get dressed in some kind of decent outfit and drive across the island for the meal. What I wore: some kind of turquoise-and-black long-sleeve tie-dye shirt and leggings and the necklace of connected circles that was my favorite. Mario was a happy-go-lucky guy whose demeanor masked his depression. Every day he got up and went to Rise and had something positive to say to everyone else. I was sealed inside my agony like I was entombed.

What could I do? I was so exhausted from the Stelazine that I sometimes fell asleep in the community meeting. I once had a cold and took a Benadryl and dropped off stoned asleep for the rest of the day.

I got very good at making ceramics: a blue copycat Ming vase, a doll that beat a drum with the word love on it that I painted yellow and green and purple, and of course, the cat mold. By the time spring arrived, I had made three: an Egyptian cat with green eyes, a white one that I glued blue rhinestones to for eyes, and a sandy cat.

The cat mold was popular at the day program.

This was the kind of thing that constituted victory.

Too Much

Here’s another memoir excerpt in the order the excerpts appear in Left of the Dial:


Now I was alone with the memories of last New Year’s Eve. It was the end of 1986, and Sinead was spinning records on-air that night. I drove over to the radio station with a couple of six packs of Harp’s. Carny and I hung out in the women’s room across the hall, drinking and laughing and having a good time.

We weren’t allowed to drink in the studio or the radio station office and most likely shouldn’t have been drinking on campus at all. We hid the containers in a stall while drinking in front of the sinks. Willy joined us at nine o’clock. His eyes were sullen moons, and his nostrils flared as if he had done a bump. I got the idea that my presence was an inconvenience to him, and he went along with Carny to please her.

We ordered pizza, and he reluctantly trudged outside to the guard booth of the parking lot to retrieve it. Domino’s—they would deliver in under a half hour. He ordered one with pepperoni and, to humor me, bought a second one with mushrooms only.

Sinead slipped in during a long song to have a slice.

For the last hour of the radio show, we joined her at the microphone. She called her show “The Year-End, Rear End Review of 1986 Record Picks” and mixed the top 120 songs the disc jockeys played on the radio for the last twelve months.

Carny and Sinead both announced the songs with glee, laughing through the chorus of “Year-End, Rear End Review of 1986 Record Picks.” Over and over they shouted out those words.

It was like I was hovering in space. That night I was far away from the island and suspended in hope.

Sinead closed down the studio and locked the office doors at two in the morning. We each carried a six pack out to my car so I could dispose of the evidence elsewhere. I drove everyone home like my car was an airplane—with a sure hand. I had stopped drinking when Willy arrived and was clear-headed by the time we had to leave.

Tonight I tucked this memory in my mind to retrieve again when I was feeling blue. At six in the morning, I stood washing and scrubbing the dishes at the kitchen sink. I looked out the window at the silent, empty world that would never be mine.

Tears flowed uncontrollably. It was the lowest point of my life. I had hit rock bottom and couldn’t see a way out of my pain. I sat in the wicker chair in my room, crying for two hours.

The Fetchin’ Bones lyrics to the song “Too Much” drifted into my head. I saw my whole life, and it was truly too much. I was ready to consider pulling the plug.


Left of the Dial Amazon Page

Christmas Eve

I’ll publish here the second entry of the memoir excerpts in the order of when the scenes appear in Left of the Dial.

I’m 49 and The Night of the Seven Fishes has been going on since I was 7 years old: 42 years.


Christmas Eve was a sad and strange music, the ending of an era I was unable to let go. I felt beat up against myself, subliminally drawn to be who I was: a girl I fancied to be courageous, someone who went against the grain. How could I miss her when I still wanted to be her?

Dressed in black, I was pulled into the instinct to hibernate inside my body: I wore muddy eye shadow and brown lipstick.

The windows of my soul were closed; locked; shuttered. Only the smear of lipstick was a clue: like velvet in a panic.

With my grandfather gone my father now headed the table, where everyone bumped elbows. The old oak table in Aunt Rose’s dining room was long as a highway and with many stories along its worn surface. My Aunt Liz was here with my four cousins. Did they know I had been in a hospital? No one mentioned it.

One of the stories was Aunt Millie. She wore like a cloud her Jean Nate after-bath splash. We could set our clocks by the money cards she gave us at Christmas—in which we each received a crisp twenty dollar bill.

Tradition like this held us together, though this year my grandmother sat on a chair against the wall in the kitchen, watching as Aunt Rose and my mother took over the cooking. Always, for Christmas Eve, the seven fishes: lobster, shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams, crab, and scungilli. And forever, family: together clasping our hands as my father said grace.

Aunt Millie sat next to me, eating her food in careful bites, and sent fresh shrimp to my plate in not-so-covert operations.

“Eat, eat,” she nudged me.

Aunt Millie worked at the OTB—Off Track Betting—and loved horses. She lived on Lenox Road just off Flatbush, and had been in the first-floor studio for thirty years. Pictures of derby winners lined the walls. She was afraid to take the subway, and wouldn’t ride in elevators.

We used to visit Aunt Millie every Thanksgiving, when I was a child, in the years after her favorite brother, my Uncle Jerry, died. My mother and father would urge her, “Come, celebrate at your sister’s, and spend the holiday with family.” Though she was a great aunt, we called her, simply, aunt. I remembered the cart on which the liquor bottles preened. She was a good friend with Johnnie Walker.

Years later those bottles were indented in my brain, a curious memory. Each time we’d go there, Aunt Millie would make a fuss, and reluctantly bundle up in her one good coat, and get into the Impala—or not. Only sometimes. She dried up and came around slowly, until she wouldn’t ever miss her real family for the world. Here we were, feasting on fish and hearing the story we pretended we were hearing for the first time, our eyes shining intently.

“Hot dog wagons, that’s the ticket,” Aunt Millie said, pointing her fork in the air. “If I opened one up on the corner of DeKalb in 1957, I would be a millionaire now.”

“I coulda bought a race horse if I had the money.” She looked forlorn.

My grandmother was losing her moorings. Trying to make the coffee, she poured the grinds into the boiling water in the pot. My mother secretly replaced the contents when my grandmother went into the living room.
My grandmother and Aunt Millie were sisters from a family of nine children, some of whom weren’t here, others scattered far away.

My aunt, whose given name was Carmela, was thin as a rake handle. “How about some blackjack?” She always wanted to play card games. Aunt Rose went into the kitchen and came back with a deck.

I always lost, asking Aunt Millie to “hit me” until it hurt, and I went over twenty-one. It involved luck and skill I didn’t have. “Unlucky at cards, lucky at love” was the double bind because the reverse was true too. But I was willing to bet on love; I held out the hope that I’d find someone who’d take it slow and easy.

“Blackjack,” Marc called out. And we started again.

Aunt Rose folded after three rounds. My father won one game.

At nine o’clock, he drove us home. I was scared of the changes and endings, of losses and letting go. When I fell asleep, I dreamed of a horse out of Belmont named Aunt Millie: winner, by a nose, in the third.


Left of the Dial Amazon Page

Hospital Life

I expect my memoir Left of the Dial to go on sale at the latest on December 1st of this year.

As the date nears I will excerpt scenes from the memoir here. Today’s is a glimpse of life on the ward, a place I hope no one has the misfortune to land in.


By my third week, my lipstick was worn down to a blunt slope, and I had the goal of leaving before the tube was empty. Zoe came into my life in a drop-dead segue between despair and hope. She arrived on Monday and made herself known. A wild earth kind of woman with manic depression, she was a fireball, igniting the other patients, and then flaming out on herself.

Caught up in her frantic good humor, I coasted along with her whims. Lucia, the recreation therapist, decided to take the patients bowling at Knotty Pines. I was reminded of the Camper Van Beethoven song “Take the Skinheads Bowling” that I played on my radio show. I liked the music, not the sport.

“Come on, we’ll have fun at the Nutty Pines.” Zoe didn’t skip a beat.

“Okay.” We lined up together to be escorted out. She gave me a pair of sunglasses (she had two) so we could cover up in case our friends saw us on the outside.

“I got a couple pairs from Jimmy. He has a case of them in his room,” she said. How did she know this?

The van rattled down Forest Avenue towards the desolate section of town. Truly, I hated bowling and wanted an excuse to escape. Once inside, I eased into a size five shoe and selected a ball that weighed the least. The tobacco-color interior was glum; the stench of cigarette smoke lingered. Lucia kept score.

“Darn, a gutterball.” I watched it slide down the side.

“Gutterfuck.” Zoe laughed.

Lucia told her to watch her language.

We ended ten frames and started again. Fidgety, I wanted to end it all so threw the bowling ball down the alley with careless conviction.

Lucia said, “Be patient. Don’t rush.” Zoe got a lucky strike and won the game.

After, we went to Pal Joey’s for pizza. We wore our sunglasses indoors.

“What are you, the Blues Sisters?” Lucia laughed.

I imagined our protest would go down in our charts.

“We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time,” Zoe chuckled.

If only we could’ve stayed outside a little longer. I missed the freedom of blue skies. Too soon we returned to Veronica Lane.


Left of the Dial Amazon Page