Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF
 

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF
 

read more

Preface

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. vii-viii

When you pick up a pen, put it to paper, and let yourself go, certain words throw themselves at you, whole paragraphs come to you unbidden, entire passages stake their claim, refuse to be ignored. Even when you don’t want them. Especially when you don’t want them...

read more

Acknowledgments

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. ix

Many thanks to early readers of my work: Judith Kitchen, Karen DeLaney, Sarah Freligh, Paul Bond, Deb Wolkenberg, Sharon Pierce, and the Hilton hc (Laurie, Bonnie, Donna, Karen R., and Karen K.). I appreciate careful readings by Deanna Ferguson, Allen Galante, Gregory Gerard, Stephen Kuusisto, and Julietta Wolf-Foster. I am...

Part 1: The Get Go

read more

1

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 3

It must have been April or May of 1967 when he came through town, a vacuum-cleaner salesman with a carload of rubber belts, metal tubing, and suction hoses. Spring in western New York, it was probably a sunless day—he may have been chilled as he grabbed hold of his Kirby upright, walked to the door, and rang the bell...

read more

2

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 4-5

The story was a good one. My mother swore by it. People clucked and laughed when she told it. Growing up, it made my birth seem special. Like I was cracked from another of Adam’s ribs or crawled from my mother’s womb fully-formed and armored, like some commonplace Athena...

read more

3

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 6

I had no father, which sounds much more dramatic than it was. If I’d known girls whose daddies held them tight and gazed at them with so much pride it tore at the eyes, I might have thought that all girls should have such a thing. But I never knew such girls. And how can...

read more

4

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 7-8

My favorite person should have been Carol Johnson. Carol’s voice was like gravel, her words came out slow and sifted through the cigarette perpetually pressed between her lips. She was as thick-fingered as any man, but kind. And painfully generous. She had four kids of her own, but managed to treat me like I was special. Carol said beautiful things...

read more

5

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 9

I found five dollars and discovered what it felt like to swallow the sky. The money was folded on the sidewalk in front of our apartment. I saw its color first, a tight rectangle of green lying flat against the gray walk. It was sitting there like a gift, so I picked it up and handed it over to my mother who thanked me, hugged me, adored...

read more

6

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 10-11

Three girls were killed. Right here, in our city. Rochester, New York. They were put into the ground, those girls. Buried under flat stone over at Mount Hope, lying silent beneath the red earth and wild violets of Holy Sepulchre. Something terrible happened to them. Something my mother spoke of with hands over her mouth...

read more

7

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 12

My mother and her children walked in a line through the neighborhood, a ragtag group of boys and girls, arranged by descending height. We’d crisscross the streets in the northeast section of the city, resting along the way until we found ourselves on the sloping green hill near the softball field on East Main and Culver. Six kids, grubby-fingered...

read more

8

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 13

Annmarie was spoiled—but only in the way that poor children can be. She was given things, but they always fell short of what she really wanted. Still, she was the only girl, the youngest, and her mother doted on her in a small and nervous way. Annmarie’s mother was tiny. Dark hair curled around a heart-shaped face, and she would have been pretty...

read more

9

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 14

My mother placed an empty cardboard box in the kitchen and once a week deposited some camping essential into it. Toothbrushes and a flashlight one week, pop-up camping cups and a box of matches another. We were planning a big trip. To the Adirondacks, or maybe to New Hampshire, where we’d pick blueberries all day and see what...

read more

10

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 15-16

My mother had told us time and time again not to, but we couldn’t resist the cushioned bouncing, the way our hair splashed in the air as we fell. Carol and her kids were visiting and we were bored, so we took to the bed and started bouncing. Then there she was, tight-eyed and in...

read more

11

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 17-18

Like other people celebrated holidays, we packed our stuff and moved. Leighton Avenue. Bowman Street. East Main Street, upper and lower. All that movement may sound like something, but the places were within blocks of each other and nothing marked the moves as...

read more

12

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 19-20

Aunt Jane was a Jehovah’s Witness who had married one McCullen brother, had five girls, then married another and had two more. Polly and Molly were the oldest. Large-bottomed twins with a trail of suds perpetually falling from their ripe hands, the pair was most often...

read more

13

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 21-22

Tess was the only interesting cousin I had, the sort made more interesting by her rejection of me. Death in general, and ghosts in particular, were big with Tess. She’d burn candles, use the Ouija board, sit Indian-style and call out to John F. Kennedy to “please appear...

read more

14

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 23

The pink took. It was not sweet or giving, as pink should be. The color was fixed to our walls in Albion, the place we moved to aft er camping out in our cousins’ yard. The house my mother found was big and old. White plaster crumbled through the pink walls like whitecaps on a...

read more

15

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 24-25

On warm nights, the family spread throughout the house like lounging cats. But when it was cold, we slept in the same room, the pink room being the only one with heat. My mother and her six children gathered hungrily around the large furnace that squatted in the center of...

read more

16

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 26-27

Albion is in Orleans County, one of the poorest counties in New York State. And in the poorest of counties, the poorest of people came from West Virginia, though the reason for their northern migration was unclear. Perhaps they’d simply followed the eastern tip of Lake Erie up...

read more

17

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 28

The backyard was the flattened acres of abandoned farms with a few clumps of trees left here and there. We built a fort in one of those tree stands, an oasis amid tall grasses and weeds. Whole days unwound there. We hung from homemade swings, chewed on monkey vines...

read more

18

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 29

The fields out back were loaded with strawberries, which we picked and ate in bowls with milk. My mother also boiled them into jams and jellies. We grew vegetables in a muck garden near the house. Carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes mainly. We ate homegrown vegetables and fruits...

read more

19

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 30

In September, a school bus stopped in front of the house and took us to Albion Primary and Secondary schools. The driver was thick-featured and rarely moved from his cushioned perch, except on holidays, when he handed out treats from a plain brown bag—candy canes at...

read more

20

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 31

At school, I learned to read and write and use spit in creative ways. I had a crush on a sweet-faced boy who looked like Randy from the Jackson Five. “Rhinestone Cowboy” was the big song. At school, I shined. Other than having the silver dollar that had been left by the...

read more

21

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 32-33

We didn’t trick-or-treat on Halloween because the houses were so far from each other. Instead, our mother asked questions about past presidents or spun the globe and had us locate Istanbul or Uruguay. In exchange, we’d receive thick candy bars, with the game rigged to make...

read more

22

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 34

One frozen blue evening, we took rides on a horse-drawn sleigh. A man came to the house and gathered us by the load, our laughter the only sound for miles. Looking up through the warmth of a scarf that covered everything but my eyes, I saw a sky that bloomed velvet flowers. Back...

read more

23

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 35

My mother worked in a gypsum factory just outside Batavia. The world passed from night to day and back again as she laced electrical wires through drywall boards. The only woman to work in the prefab metal building, she learned to drink coffee in hollow rooms with sawdust-laden floors...

read more

24

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 36-37

Once, at Sunday school, while coloring in Adam, Eve, and the Snake on black-outlined sheets, someone asked about how the original pair, living outdoors, went to the bathroom. I knew how, so I raised my hand and told the nuns about our outhouse. They didn’t believe. I insisted, told them...

read more

25

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 38-39

Will was the oldest in the family, the quiet one who, because of his age, his silence, and the fact that he’d spent the past year living with his father in Albany, was basically a stranger. In fact, by the time things went bad between he and his father, and he arrived in Albion, I had...

read more

26

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 40

I closed my eyes and began to imagine the soft skin, the sweet-smelling hair. I had baby dolls, of course, and a younger sister already, but at five, Mallory was too big to wrap into a blanket and carry around. A baby, I thought again, imagining the ruffled clothes and bottles of...

read more

27

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 41-42

Stringy clumps of hair the color of strained carrots twined round Peg’s thin neck. The chalky line of her lips receded into a small chapped face. Eager to show that they liked kids, they chose me to spend the day at their house, a house that smelled of Pine-Sol and too much scrubbing. Lacy afghans...

read more

28

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 43

I sensed her nudging us toward the name, but I chose Rachel primarily on account of a girl named Amy in my class with a tiny row of rotted teeth...

read more

29

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 44-45

Judith was unapologetic as she twisted her body into my mother’s and explained the haircut. Underweight and eyes bulging, Judith looked like a stray cat, but instead of telling her to scat, my mother said nothing. She simply took us home and did not speak for hours. The...

read more

30

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 46-47

There was nothing pretty about my lunchbox, nothing to see but the huge old head of Kwai Chang Caine, the crime-fighting monk from tv. And if you looked at it, that’s all you’d see—Caine’s bald head, cracked by the dent, looking like the shell of an overcooked egg...

read more

31

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 48-50

With little explanation and no preparation, most of us moved onto the Tonawanda Indian Reservation. The reservation was south of Albion, closer to Buffalo. The three oldest kids (Will, Anthony, and Lisa) were either sent back to Rochester to stay with friends, or took a train to...

read more

32

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 51

Bowl after worn plastic bowl of unfocused ingredients floated before me in a strained broth. Corn, carrots, cabbage, and whatever else could be found were softened in water and flavored with animal fat. We had soup on the reservation every day, sometimes twice. The overworked...

read more

33

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 52-54

In September, we were bussed a few towns away for school. Brown eyes settled upon us as we climbed aboard. My sisters and I were the only whites on the bus, and in the days to come, I would fight almost daily with a dark girl who insisted on making fun of my whiteness. Neither of...

read more

34

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 55

Mallory was younger than me, but not the youngest. Rachel was the baby, the dark-haired reason for our move to the reservation. Mallory was blonde with ringlets and dimples. The truth was I’d never quite forgiven her for being born, but due to limited options I’d sometimes...

read more

35

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 56

Billie’s house was as small as a shack to begin with, but as the wind whipped east from Lake Erie and south from Ontario, we crouched in its hold so that, by late February, we began to feel cramped. Even as we gathered around the wood-burning stove, rubbing palms together, we...

read more

36

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 57

Linny was Lana and Jolie’s cousin. Sometimes she and her brother stayed at Billie’s house. Her brother was tiny and wore a metal brace on his thin right leg. Both children had soft brown skin, short bowl cuts, and Asiatic eyes. They were delicate flowers, and quietly preferred...

read more

37

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 58-59

Spirits lived in the wood, they said, and could be captured in masks cut from living trees. The masks had mouths set in permanent scowls, and were meant to ward off gagohsas. Billie said that if the tree lived after the mask was taken, it brought good luck to its wearer...

read more

38

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 60

The hole was actually the beginning of a basement that had been dug for a larger house back when Billie thought she could pay for such a thing. A few springs of rain and thaw had filled the hole with water, and by the time we arrived, it had become a regular feature of Billie’s...

read more

39

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 61-62

In late summer, someone threw a party. Families came from other parts of Tonawanda and from as far away as the Allegany and Cattaraugus reservations. Kids ran wild and thirsty through the mowed sections of Billie’s land. I lingered near the water basin, scooping cool water into...

read more

40

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 63-64

His fat brown fingers clutched at giant-sized bags of potato sticks, corn chips, cheese curls, or whatever other oversized portion of snack food had been on sale the day his mother went shopping. Though older than me and my sisters, Billie’s baby brother was still a boy, the youngest...

read more

41

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 65

Someone’s father showed up one day, in jeans and soiled leather boots. He walked into Billie’s house like he’d always belonged, legs stretched out, cigarette dangling from his fingers. He’d brought three Marathon candy bars with him. Marathon bars were long chocolate and caramel...

read more

42

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 66

“The welfare knows you’re here,” she said to no one in particular, but somehow indicating us. The words themselves made no sense to me, but I somehow understood that we were being told to leave. Certainly her words were strong enough to make my mother fly out the door...

read more

43

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 67-69

That she was in love with all things winged was perhaps the most solid thing to be said about her. The rounded sweep of her cheek, the shy upturn of her smile—even the steel blue of her irises—none of these was clearer to me than her fondness for creatures of the sky...

read more

44

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 70-71

Maybe too proud, though she’d never say such a thing. After years in the wilds of northern Maine, he found himself a wife and headed west, to New Hampshire. She was fierce and young, a dark-haired girl whose beauty was more chiseled than soft, whose people were said to...

read more

45

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 72-73

And then there was the ending, the sad truth of the matter, the part of the story most oft en set aside in the telling: My grandmother left her husband, proud as a rock, sick and dying, alone in a bed near the foot of the White Mountains. She packed up her clothes and her children...

read more

46

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 74

We’d sometimes set out on our own, walk the trails, tiptoe over rackety bridges, looking for tadpoles in shallow pools. Other times we followed our mother, listening as she told her stories and pointed out wildflowers. Mayapple. Queen Anne’s lace. Trout lily. We watched her...

read more

47

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 75-76

I sat on the bed and stared at the side-by-side boxes of Cheerios and powdered milk perched atop a pressed-wood dresser. The two boxes were the same size and dimensions, and while I loathed the taste of dried milk mixed with lukewarm water, those boxes still managed to...

read more

48

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 77

Just when I’d begun to get used to the ease of motel-room living, we were leaving. I’d grown attached to the stiffly laundered towels, the cool tile floor clean against my feet, the magic of indoor plumbing. But we were moving, my mother said, tomorrow after school...

read more

49

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 78-81

Charlie was the color of chocolate milk. His creamy brown skin was only odd when you considered the fact that his parents were whiter than bleached and bromated flour. Charlie, they said, had a rare blood disease. The blood disease had bronzed Charlie’s skin and coiled his...

read more

50

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 82

I learned a few new words on my first day at School no. 11: honkie, Oreo, blow job. A honkie was a white person, my mother said, and blow job was a dirty word for something adults did. She didn’t know anything about Oreos, but I soon learned that they were kids with one...

read more

51

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 83

Rufus and Jewel lived in the apartment beneath ours. Jewel was tall and thin with skin the color of creamed coffee. Easily the prettiest woman on the street, she walked with a straight back and had once been a catalog model. Pages from Sears and Kmart ads were displayed in the...

read more

52

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 84

My bed was in the living room. So was Steph’s. I’d spent years sleeping on floors, of course, and so didn’t know enough to care about sleeping in the living room. All I knew was that suddenly we had beds, and as Steph attempted to divide up the living room with cardboard boxes...

read more

53

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 85-86

Despite her wishes to the contrary, Stephanie was pretty. Waist-length hair hung like a thundercloud around a full mouth and cola-colored eyes. She was tiny, and could have been a doll had she been so inclined, but beauty was an unimportant variable to her, a hindrance, if anything...

read more

54

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 87-89

Like flowers in the desert that somehow manage without water, religion flourished on Grand Avenue. A Bible-Baptist couple one block over provided theological instruction in their backyard. They paid in candy for those who brought other kids to them. They gave Bibles...

read more

55

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 90-91

My mother’s car broke down and changed everything. Unable to afford the repairs, she could no longer make the hour-long commute to Batavia for her factory job, and the green Buick became just one more stopped car in the wide driveway that separated us from the...

read more

56

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 92

My mother did what she could, even designed and implemented a behavior modification program. She used poster board and felt-tip markers to create a chart with columns and rows, said she wanted us to share in the housework. Things were different now, she said, and she...

read more

57

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 93-94

One that people would talk about twenty years later. Snow covered the city with a blanket so thick, people couldn’t move, and the schools had no choice but to release early. I forgot my mittens, or never had any to begin with, and kept my hands stuffed in my pockets and eyes...

read more

58

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 95-96

Corpus Christi was our church. Despite our forays into the Pentacostal church on Grand and visits to the Bible-Baptists’ backyard for candy and praise, Corpus was the Catholic church we’d attended for years. The place my mother had worshipped saints while practicing free love...

read more

59

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 97

My mother stopped cooking most days, and meal planning became beside the point. She wasn’t around, and even when she was, she’d lost interest. Not counting holidays—when large feasts were prepared, the table set, and prayers read—we were essentially scavengers when it...

read more

60

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 98

She stopped kissing me on Grand Avenue. My mother. At my request. Her leaning over each night and planting a kiss on my cheek began to feel weird. She sensed it, too, saw the way I wiggled and moved and thought of questions to distract her as she approached, so I knew she...

read more

61

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 99-100

The sound of bullets whizzed my way. I raised my wrists to meet them, deflected them soundly with my tin-foil bands. Wonder Woman wore bands made of Feminum, a magic metal mined only on Paradise Island. But the coconut-scented place and its ore-producing Amazons...

read more

62

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 101-103

We’d known Carol Johnson and her kids since I was a baby. She was the one who had been so generous, the one who’d given me the black purse that started my wondering about money. We were no longer living on the same street, but the Johnson family was only a few blocks...

Part 2: Dead End Days

read more

63

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 107

By the time we pushed our belongings up Lamont Place, most families were headed in the opposite direction. Anyone with a car got in and pointed it east, toward the comfortable ranches and Cape Cods that had sprung up just beyond the city’s reach...

read more

64

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 108-109

As one of her first actions upon our new home, Steph converted the basement into a bike shop. Half of the basement was dirt-floored, and even the half that was floored was dank and cobwebbed. Though space was always at a premium, none of us could find a use for the place...

read more

65

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 110-112

The dead end of the street was a fenced-in park that sealed off the street like a cork. The weedy lot was used by kids for baseball and running, by men for drinking and fighting, and as access to Goodman Plaza—a square of rundown shops, including a large grocery, a Laundromat...

read more

66

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 113-114

Don’t get me wrong, there was never a girl so courteous, so clever, so kind as Nancy Drew. And while other heroines could dodge bullets and fly, they each had their bad days, cases of raw nerves, bouts of selfdoubt, and minor breakdowns. But Nancy, sweet Nancy, was always...

read more

67

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 115-116

Our house was number ten, between the Spades and the Smiths. The Smiths were next door to us, at eight. Unlike other families on Lamont, the Smith family did not attend Corpus Christi, and drove instead to St. Bridget’s on the other side of town. Only their youngest...

read more

68

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 117

When we’d returned to Rochester, we found that Annmarie VanEpps and her nervous little mother lived at 20 Lamont, and we were reunited with them when we moved onto the street. The Sullis were at five, the Rosarios at four, the Matizzis at three. All of them attended Corpus...

read more

69

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 118-120

I thought back to Lisa’s old lace communion dress, which had been left on the reservation, and remembered the photos taken of the oldest kids with rosaries and Bibles tucked under their hands. Lisa had been smiling in her communion picture. The veil she wore made her into a...

read more

70

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 121-122

And when I wasn’t going back and forth between public schools, it was my school, too. Because I had returned to the church before my mother, I behaved as though I’d discovered the place or built it myself, stone by stone—but in truth, the church had always been a part of...

read more

71

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 123

So many kids attended Thursday Night Mass at Corpus Christi that they sent a van for us. Rusted lesions covered the side of the two-toned vehicle, whose windows had been replaced by clear plastic and duct tape. The van shuddered as it moved and sounded like it was at war with...

read more

72

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 124-126

Religious instruction was an intimate affair at Corpus. In earlier years, classes had met in cracked plaster rooms, grouped according to age, and students were given lessons on the Bible and morality by nuns or similarly inclined women. But when Father Shea was assigned to...

read more

73

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 127-128

The incense used at funerals was strong, and lingered always in the background, while the high sweet perfume worn by legions of old ladies seemed captured in the very grain of the pews. Candles glowed, and smelled like rain as they melted. The balsam of sacramental oils...

read more

74

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 129

The communion rail lasted only months after Father Shea’s arrival. He was all for removing barriers, wanted the altar accessible to everyone. Though in truth, the communion rail had already begun to crumble before he came; whole sections were missing or broken, like the remains of an...

read more

75

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 130-131

Margot Whitemore was a sacristan, one of the ladies who set up for Mass, extinguished candles, folded vestments, and discarded leftover communion wine. Unlike the Sunday sacristan, Margot had spark and poured Thursday’s leftovers not into the designated sacred plumbing...

read more

76

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 132-134

By the time I entered sixth grade and began to understand the way things were, I’d traded in my smart-girl label for smart-ass. I watched the funniest kids at school—those I most admired—and took notes. I learned the art of cracking up a room of eleven-year-olds with a well-placed...

read more

77

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 135-136

One minute I was at my desk, looking out the window, and the next, someone was at the classroom door, calling out my name. His face was a blur, as if his features had been crafted of putty, and I realized as I approached that I did not know him...

read more

78

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 137-140

“Hmmmm,” he said again, this time with more emphasis, then leaned back into the chair with the orange plastic cushion. The chair creaked as he pushed his pen between his lips and looked at me as though I were a bug that had just crept into his kitchen. I sat still, wondering...

read more

79

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 141

Liam and Maria were my friends. My elegant European friends. Liam, with a dark beard and a voice that smiled, and Maria, his high-talking, fashionable wife. They were friends I’d made on my own. Worldly friends, whose company made me forget the piles of dirty dishes and...

read more

80

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 142-148

Alone in the dark room, I tried to remember what she’d said. My mother. Her mouth ran like the wildest of rivers, untamed and splashing, soaking whatever it touched, so that I spent much of my time trying to keep dry. After tonight’s Mass, I’d recognized her voice and followed...

read more

81

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 149-150

They came to me from TV and books and neighborhood health clinics. Cher, Wonder Woman, a pantheon of Greek goddesses. Poor Persephone’s mother, the loving Demeter, seemed especially well suited. All were strong, all were capable, and all just a thought away...

read more

82

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 151-152

Annette Bellaqua talked with her hands. The curls on her head shook whenever she argued or swore, and so the dark ringlets were in perpetual motion. She wore wire-framed glasses and came from New York City with her husband, Sal, who was on staff at Corpus Christi...

read more

83

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 153-154

And only one of us from the man my mother actually married. The rest were reactions to that man—the one in the wedding photos, the dark-haired man with black eyes, slim build and a navy uniform, who sat and stood and laid himself next to my mother long before I ever...

read more

84

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 155-156

My mother refused to reveal our fathers’ names. It must have struck her as personal information, too personal for us; indeed, it smacked of treachery even to request such details. Their names were like eggs in a basket, my mother sitting upon them while arranging and rearranging...

read more

85

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 157

I became an expert at changing the subject. In school, I made up names for certain branches of the family tree exercise that came with painful regularity each year. I fashioned Father’s Day cards from blue construction paper and thick glue, then tossed them into the trash on...

read more

86

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 158

When she was feeling especially generous, my mother would bless me with a detail, a description, a fragment from her time with him. She told about a visit when I was a toddler. He’d stopped by for something. She didn’t say exactly, but I could guess what my father had come for...

read more

87

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 159-160

I’d close my eyes and imagine him coming for me. And when he came, my father was elegant. I ignored the lying salesman part of my mother’s stories, and instead made him loving and rich. Filthy rich. And handsome as a TV actor, with spice in his voice and a sleek black...

read more

88

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 161-163

I’d point out the garbage-picking homeless man we saw downtown as a possibility. Long hair curled about his face like a halo of frizz. His black eyebrows were caterpillars taking a slow crawl along the expanse of his lined forehead. He looked like pictures we’d seen of Einstein...

read more

89

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 164-165

I was not yet thirteen when I gave my ears to Anna Torres’s sewing needle. My mother had decreed fourteen the proper age for the piercing of ears, but I was unable to manage my longing. I tried to sit up straight while Anna pressed chunks of ice against my lobes, then ran...

read more

90

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 166-168

Inside the family, I had no such loyalties. Anything she said, did, or wore was up for attack. I railed against the “mountain woman” T-shirt she’d taken to wearing. I snorted and sighed as she spoke about the splendor of New Hampshire to anyone who would listen. I couldn’t...

read more

91

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 169-170

He astounded me, Bill did. The way he popped black olives into his eye sockets and then chased kids around Ellison Park during after-Mass picnics. The way, spindly though his legs might have been, he never allowed himself the comfort of sitting in his pew, and so dipped and...

read more

92

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 171

I’d be sent to my room for hours at a time, or the weekend—or for a string of weekends. Sometimes my mother would hit me with whatever hard thing was within reach, but mostly, she kept me inside when she thought I’d done something wrong...

read more

93

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 172-173

She yelled herself into a fit, and then lunged. We darted into the kitchen, went round and round the enamel-topped table while she followed on our heels, calling at us to stop. The more she couldn’t catch us, the more she wanted to. The faster we ran, the harder she chased...

read more

94

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 174-176

My mother spanked her as we huddled at the top of the stairs. The first few strokes came easy and hard, but after a few more, my mother’s heart did not seem in it. Still, her head was as thick as Mal’s, and she punctuated each smack against Mal’s behind with the hopeful...

read more

95

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 177-181

Beauty should be natural, she said, or not at all. Based on her belief, she wouldn’t allow us to wear makeup or high-heeled shoes. She didn’t do any of that, she said; she never did, and was prettier than each and every one of us, prettier than we could imagine. As a result, none of us...

read more

96

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 182

Bill McCarthy was teasing, of course, when he stood before me, asking with his old-man charm why I was grounded. And I didn’t always tell him. He wouldn’t have understood the rat poison, for instance, or the fake communion, or the complexities of being a middle-school...

read more

97

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 183-186

The Diocese of Rochester wouldn’t hear of kids being denied a Catholic education for lack of money, and so they helped families like mine, chipped in some of the tuition, asked mothers to work Bingo or sell chocolate bars to their neighbors, friends, and relations to raise...

read more

98

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 187-190

The Girls were calling. The Rosario girls. Sari and Maritza, maybe even Wanda. They might all be there, sipping on molasses-colored bottles of malta, snapping their gum, sucking down mango juice on their front porch. The large pine in their front yard blocked their porch...

read more

99

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 191-192

I’d peel off my uniform as soon as I got home and though there were no old Vogues lying around my house, I liked to make up my own styles. On that day, I must have felt a little adventurous, because I cut off some old khakis below the knee and cuffed them into pedal pushers, which...

read more

100

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 193-195

Not the way they prepared me for every little bit of my body changing— the way they told in advance about all the tubes and canals of my inner chambers, warned me for years about parts I’d never see, talked on and on about my period coming, what it would look like, what it...

read more

101

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 196

Way back before middle school, on the way to day camp at Eastside Community Center, two women with swollen Afros and glossed-up lips had asked me and my sister to roll up our pant legs. We were wearing our day-camp shirts, but still they wanted us to roll up our pants...

read more

102

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 197

I’d eaten chunk after chunk of raw potato for days, then weeks, all based on Michelle Labella’s recommendation, and still my chest was as shapeless as every other part of my body. I stared and turned in the mirror, looked here and there for signs of change. Looked hard for the...

read more

103

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 198

Even my old friend Annmarie let a man with a girlfriend sweet-talk her. She quit school as soon as she discovered she was pregnant, enrolled in the Young Mother’s Program, and began talking of nothing but her new life. Even when she miscarried, she still wanted her new...

read more

104

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 199-200

We went to dances in the church basement. Other than walking around the neighborhood in packs when the weather was right and looking at the never-changing world from front porches, church dances were the only way to meet boys from outside the neighborhood. Boys who...

read more

105

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 201-202

I was at home skipping school when I heard the scrape of keys in the lock. I flew up the stairs just as two voices came in from the cold. It was Anthony, just home from the Marines. Not recognizing the other voice, I wondered who it was until Tony asked, “So how long you been...

read more

106

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 203

The Girls and I sat around swapping stories about what had happened to so-and-so—our sisters, our friends, our mothers. And if the evidence around me weren’t enough, I thought back to the stories I’d read, remembered how often the gods were cruel. I thought of Hades...

read more

107

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 204

And as my junior year of school wound down, I looked for signs of what was in store for those who’d listened to the health teacher, the parish priest, the message on TV. What happened to those who played by the rules? What was the reward, I wondered, besides a bit of self-righteousness...

read more

108

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 205-207

With green eyes and gold hair and a tongue thick with accent and beer. He drove an orange Pinto with the flag of Cuba stuck to the bumper. He kept the windows down in summer, let the toques and claves of old Havana fall into the night, sent streamers of sound into the street...

read more

109

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 208-209

Most of her free time was spent in bed, wishing everything away. I might come home to a dark house, my younger sisters sitting in front of the downstairs TV or off with friends. Or, more rarely, I might find the house full of light and music, my mother singing while scrubbing...

read more

110

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 210-211

I stood at the living-room window, picking at a thread on a curtain that had begun to unravel, listening to the ups and downs of my mother’s voice across the room. She was not high tonight. In fact, she had sounded so low when I’d knocked on her door, I wasn’t even sure...

read more

111

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 212

They were topics she had not shied away from. Girls we knew — friends of the family and some in the neighborhood — already had babies. She knew I was taking more time getting dressed, spending less time with my friends, and staying out late most nights — so...

read more

112

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 213-214

I received a call from another doctor a week later, after I’d been treated for what may have been an early miscarriage. After my mother finished that first call, she was silent on the subject and its outcome, and I went to subsequent appointments to the gynecologist on...

read more

113

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 215-216

At first, I went to the apartment off Monroe Avenue to keep Annmarie company for a few nights. But nights became weeks, then months. Everything was dreary at home, my mother seemed lower than usual, and I couldn’t bear another summer of stagnant...

read more

114

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 217-219

I’d always talked about college and my mother had encouraged me. Clearly, she had not read any parenting magazines or considered the power of self-fulfilling prophecy, because in her mind, the futures of her children were easy enough to figure: Steph was a mechanical...

read more

115

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 220-221

Over time, Stephanie demonstrated her technical skills and began to work exclusively on computer projects, while I gravitated toward the people end of the transportation business, talking for hours with elderly people on the phone, helping them arrange rides to visit their...

read more

116

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 222-224

I took to leaving after my first few classes, or at least by lunch. I’d shove my books into a locker and walk out of the building, counting on the fact that I looked like someone who was doing what she was supposed to be doing. At the large urban school, I was better than...

read more

117

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 225

Adults slid behind desks and worked on properly punctuating sentences. When I was handed a ditto to work on, I looked at the Dick and Jane illustrations and turned around to find someone to laugh with. But every other head was bent into the work. My fellow night school...

read more

118

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 226-227

Toward the end of senior year, I walked off the tennis courts during gym class one day with Bernadette Benetti. The sun was shining and we swayed our hips as we crossed East Main Street, taking no pains to hide our AWOL status. We came back a half-hour later, coffee and...

read more

119

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 228-230

I thought of the bad teachers I’d had. Mr. Burm, who started each English class with a piece of chalk between his fingers. He’d step to the board, scratch out an assignment, then return to his newspaper while we did what we wanted at our desks. I kept waiting for something to...

read more

120

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 231-232

I was floating, had just come from the Girls’ house, where Maritza had shared our news. She’d passed the math exam that had plagued her for years, and Mrs. Wylie had called me down after testing to say that Mrs. Rich, the PE teacher, had made an exception...

read more

121

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 233-234

Over every pain I’d ever felt. Over the imprecise hovering of the future, the nostalgic thorn of the past. Over my mother, my sisters, the father I never knew. Over the places we’d lived, the things we’d lost, and how wilted everything looked just then. Over Ruben and Danny...

read more

122

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 235-236

As names began to be called, I watched as boys in purple gowns and girls in white met at center stage, faced each other briefly, then turned and walked into the limelight. The audience responded with whoops and hollers, hearty clapping, or a polite dribble of applause...

read more

Epilogue

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 237-239

Ask anyone who leaves one world for another and you’ll hear about a kind of limbo. Once you pass through certain doors, you can no longer go back—you find that your body has grown in ways you could not have predicted, and no longer fits. Even if you sucked everything in and...