You’d always loved The Eagles. I recall listening to their albums by warm, dim light while you rearranged the living room furniture, or cooked a late meal. Whenever I hear The Eagles, I smell the smoldering blend of your menthol tobacco and spiced rose incense. And I can hear you singing along to your favorite tracks. You’d turn up the volume every time Desperado played—your buzz-on eyes would go even starrier, and you’d rock your body, delicately. One of the These Nights always shattered your trance. You’d dance a little quicker, and open your mouth wider, trying to match the high notes of the refrain.

I love to remember you this way—peaceful.


image: LIFE

I’ve never let my imagination run away and out of my control; even as a child, I kept my personal fantasies realistic. I didn’t pretend I was a magician, or that a unicorn grazed in my backyard; and I don’t recall ever having an imaginary friend. Playing pretend with my friends was always a chore for me. I didn’t want to be cast as a green skinned witch, or a fairy-tale princess. I wanted to be a veterinarian, or a mother, or a writer—or all three. I spent more time directing, and building backstories for my friends’ characters than I did actual play-acting. What’s funny is I had no problem casting others in roles outside the scope of reality.

I believe I restrained my imagination for the same reason I demanded to dictate my friends: I felt unsafe in my home environment, and I needed to have control over something—anything separate from my mom and dad. I wanted to be a unicorn riding princess, but I couldn’t be one of those carefree kids and still be able to pay attention to my surroundings. I’ve been in survival mode since the day I was born, I swear.

When my little sister was old enough to play pretend, I loved playing with her, even when we played Mom and Baby, and I was the baby; I had to drink imaginary apple juice, even though I preferred imaginary grape. I didn’t mind giving in to Tara. Mostly. She’s a fucking mule, that one, and I must admit that I’ve legit lost to her countless times in my life simply because she’s a stronger personality than I. Can you imagine? A superior personality to mine??? Between the two of us, Tara is the real survivor since birth—she nearly died, ffs.

Tara talks about me all the time. She tells people I’m amazing for this reason and that, and when I meet these people, they have loads of questions. My sister is proud of me. She tells people I’m her best friend, and I’m the one who raised her. It makes me smile, knowing Tara loves me so much, and looks up to me. But it makes me sad, too. I shouldn’t have had to be her mother; I should have only been her big sister.

I’ve been Tara’s “mother” since she came home from the hospital. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m happy we’re so close. Aside from Jim, and Nicole, Tara is my best friend in the whole wide world. She amazes me, the level of patience she has for our mother; if not for Tara, our mother would no longer know me. Because I would have walked away a long time ago. It’s funny, Tara keeps me in our mother’s life, and I keep Tara in our dad’s.



Memories are just fragments of film. It’s odd, some of the events our brains retain, be they home movies, or pure fiction–intricate fabrications focused tighter and tighter over time. The power of suggestion is strong, indeed. My mother is one of those story tellers who believes in the fables she’s invented, says my dad. I have no reliable source of reality in regards to my childhood, though I do tend to put heavier stock in most things my dad has to say, because he’s not bat shit crazy. Or is he? Dad did a lot of hard drugs when he was young, says my mother–she’s mentioned angel dust and heroine more than a handful of times. But that was before I was born, so why should I care? Right? Right?

These are some things that I know are real memories.

I do recall, without uncertainty, my dad harvesting some of the plants he’d raised in the basement of our house in Lapeer; I watched him roll a joint for himself, and he said, “Don’t you tell your mother.” I also remember when our tabby cat, Thomas, somehow found himself locked inside “Dad’s Room,” and when we discovered him, several plants had been chewed to fuck all. Oh, Thomas!

Dad and Grandpa had fields of weed some fucking place in B.F.E. (which means Bum Fuck Egypt for reasons I do not know). Once my mother began working nights, dad had no choice but to take my sister and I along for the ride out to green fucking acres (I’ve just now come up with that). At age eight, or nine, or ten, I didn’t know what the hell dad was doing, parking his truck in the middle of nowhere, and wandering off into the tall weeds for thirty plus minutes. Tara and I would sit in the dark, and listen to hordes of crickets–or God forbid, the unholy June Bugs. Sometimes dad would leave the radio on for us. Other times we would play the Color Game–that’s when one of us would think of a color, and the other would guess; we’d take turns, guessing the same goddamned colors over and over again. I invented the Color Game one night when Tara couldn’t sleep, for whatever reason–she was an extremely anxious child. It was my way of trying to soothe her without allowing her to climb down from her top bunk and into my bed. She always did end up sleeping beside me. Tara and I grew up best friends, though my role leaned heavily toward mother, even before our parents were divorced.

I was five years old when Tara was born. I’d wanted a brother, for reasons only a five year old girl might be able to explain. My mother had had a long, hard labor. She’d lost a lot of blood, and Tara, who was ultimately taken by C-section, almost drowned in that blood. It was several days for both mother and newborn in the hospital before my dad finally took me to meet my sister. I remember it was night, and Dad had bought me a McDonald’s Happy Meal to eat on our way to Hurley. I sat in the back of the station wagon, stomach in knots, stuffing french fries, and chucks of cheeseburger into whatever crease and crevice available to me. I don’t recall the toy that accompanied my food. That’s a detail my brain did not retain, probably because seeing my baby sister for the first time was/is paramount. My dad held her up before me, and I fell immediately in love with the raven haired baby named Tara.

The day Dad was able to finally bring my mother and sister home, he discovered the remains of my uneaten Happy Meal. “When I asked you if you’d eaten all your food, you said, ‘yes, daddy.’ So why is there food smashed all over in the backseat?” I don’t recall my response, but it most likely involved tears. My dad scared the fuck out of me when he was angry. Hell, he still does, though anger is something exhibited rarely these days. Now, my dad is all enlightened and shit. He hasn’t raised his voice to me since I was sixteen, and his (then) sister-in-law caught me and my (then) step-brother trying to steal cigarettes from the grocery store where she worked. In our defense, back then store management was lacking considering the easy placement of tobacco products. Liquor, too.

Dustin, my (then) step-brother and I used to climb out his bedroom window when our parents were out and sit on the roof; we’d smoke stolen smokes and drink stolen Hot Damn. I had a pipe some dude at my high school made for me, and if I didn’t have any cigarettes, Dustin and I would use it to smoke tobacco we’d loosened from butts we found in ashtrays, or laying around the yard.

I loved Dustin. Until he molested Tara. Now, I hope he’s contracted a penis disease that’s left him dysfunctional, and makes women weep upon the sight of it. Like, I hate him so much, I hope he can’t even masturbate because it’s fucking broken all to fuck, and ugly as sin. I hope the sight of his own penis makes him cry out in terror. And I hope bits of skin fall off into the toilet every time he takes a piss. I hope it looks like an overly grilled bratwurst that has been soaking in a pot of stinking hotdog water. I hope the only thing he is remembered for after he dies is the stench of his rotting penis.








I knew for certain I was pregnant three months before my eighteenth birthday; I was a high school senior. I wanted to die. Or at least I wanted her to die, though I couldn’t show up for the abortion my step-mother had arranged. I just couldn’t bring myself to take an active part in the death of a life growing inside me. So, I prayed for a miscarriage; my conscience could rest easy if my body naturally rejected the fetus. Or, I’d hope for an accident. Standing at the top of the stair, any stair, I’d invite a good trip and tumble. But as self-absorbed as people can be–as unaware of their surroundings–they always were aware of me.

Wishing for tragedy was equally sickening, but I could not silence the obsessive thoughts that beat against my eardrums. Until the time came when I first felt my girl kicking and pushing against my womb. Magic. Absolute magic. My little sister was the first to witness this delight.

Nicole moved, and I was in love.

I was in labor for twenty three hours–without an epidural. I was given a magical liquid in my IV drip to help me sleep between contractions. I actually DID sleep. Toward the end, I was legit conking out in sixty second intervals. I can’t recall being so delirious as I was those hours leading up to Nicole’s birth.

I was in a lot of pain; and in duress instigated by Adoption Lady. Adoption Lady had come into my room during the most wicked contractions, and wanted me to sign some paperwork. Jeff had called her after we’d arrived at the hospital, per her request. Jeff had decided during my sixth or so month that he and I were not capable of raising a child, so we met with Adoption Lady at Adoption Place, and made arrangements for a closed adoption. I went into labor a few weeks early, before we’d finalized our case.

My contractions were so fucking severe, I couldn’t hold the pen to sign the finalizing papers. Adoption Lady said, “I’ll come back later.”

I didn’t want to give up my baby.

The pain though, transcended comprehension. I wanted to die. I actually said at one point, ” I want to die.” And my mother said, “Don’t say that!”

I did, for a while during labor wish for death. My contractions were so strong, they were off the charts–literally. How the fucking hell have women managed to survive childbirth for thousands of years?

At eight centimeters dilated, I said, “I have to push.” And my nurse said, “You can’t yet.”

I’ve never been good at following rules. I began pushing before my doctor was even scrubbed and in position. Nicole was born at 5:04 p.m. After twenty three hours, I only pushed for like, five minutes.

When Adoption Lady returned, my attending nurse took the pleasure of telling her she’d be leaving the hospital without my baby. I didn’t give one fuck whether or not Nicole’s dad wanted to be a part of her life. All I knew was that my girl was MY GIRL.

And I haven’t wished for death since.













Understand me. I wished him dead. I did have half a mind to kill him once, with a cast iron skillet, caught up in the white-hot frenzy. I was fourteen years old, and convinced I was prepared to murder the man choking my mother in the kitchen while a beef roast baked in the oven. He’d caught my arm reaching into the bottom cupboard and slammed the door on me repeatedly until I fell back on my ass and slinked away, screaming.


I was always screaming for Ken to stop hitting my mother; to stop tugging on my sister; to stop frightening us; to leave us alone, and go off someplace to fucking die. The motherfucker was a habitual drunk driver. Why didn’t he ever crash into the trees? Or swerve off a bridge? Never once have I felt a pang of guilt for wishing–praying for liberation to come in the form of this man’s well-deserved death.

During the years my mother and Ken were together, I suffered through my first crisis of faith; and I mean faith in the universal sense. My father failed to save me and Tara. My mother failed to save us all. And what’s fucked up is at the time, I thought I was failing.

I often wished I’d wake up dead, being that Ken was indestructible. And I berated myself for being too cowardice to follow through with any of the suicide plans I had concocted in the night. But then I’d see my little sister, defenseless, and I knew I’d be a coward* to leave her alone; if I didn’t want to live for myself, I had to live for her.

*Suicide is not about cowardice. It is about pain, and the desperation to be relieved of that pain. To say I would have been a coward to take my life is what I needed to tell myself to be strong and fight for my life. I mean no disrespect.


Tomorrow Wendy was part of the soundtrack of my teendumb.

My mother met an over-the-road trucker named Ken, who moonlighted as a fauxy cowboy. She thought he looked like Burt Reynolds; Smokey and the Bandit, eternally scarred. In the words of Buford T. Justice, “Suuummm-bitch!” Worse though, he pissed all over one of the greatest westerns ever filmed, Tombstone, with his imitation Doc Holliday. “I’m your Hunkel-berry,” he’d say. Oh, fuck you, dude! You’re no daisy at all. I quickly took to calling our new meal ticket Hee-haw. He thought it was meant as an endearment; my mother knew it wasn’t, but she let the jape slide because even she thought it was funny. That’s something I’ve always loved about my relationship with my mother–our inside jokes.

Ken was a gentleman, and he wanted to see that we were all comfortable in our new home in the fancy trailer park, before revealing his other face. He’d managed to stay his hands for a good month after we moved in with him; Tara and I were at our dad’s for the weekend the first time he hit our mother, and threw punches at the walls. Gawd! Trailers were made so cheap back then.

I began freshman year that August, following a summer hiatus marked with black and blue. I was a nervous wreck. In addition to leaving my mother alone with that motherfucking Burt Reynolds rip-off, I had to show up for my first day of high school wearing the clothes he and my mother had bought for me.

Do you know what a body suit is? It’s a fucking Lycra onesie that snaps at the crotch. Mine was royal purple, long-sleeved, and had a pirate-like ruffle. I wore this get-up with fitted black denim. Boys were into me quite a lot when I was a teenager, but I figured they were only screwing with me, because I had no self-confidence. The more they complimented me, the harder I pressed my bundle of books against my chest. A Lolita, I was not; I cursed my mother all day for sending me to school in child prostitute clothes.

Clothing was a hot issue between my mother and me. And it was fucking confusing. She was always warning me about the intentions of boys–forbidding me from having straight male friends. Yet, she would get on my case for not wearing makeup, and dressing grunge. Pearl Jam, yaaaassss! My mother bought me a bikini once, and said, “I want my daughter to dress like a girl. Show off your body, and wear some makeup.” Excuse me? For fuck’s sake, I went through a spell when I didn’t wear makeup, and dressed unisex because the attention I was receiving from boys–and grown ass men–made me feel uneasy; it actually chipped away at my self-esteem. My mother was fucking clueless. She didn’t know her asshole from a hole in the ground.

The first boyfriend I ever had–one that could actually be classed a boyfriend–was a Junior named Nathan; I was a Sophomore, and my mother had given me permission to date him. She must have known something I didn’t, because shortly after prom, I broke up with him. The following school year, he came out as gay. Hahahaha! That fucking tickles me.

The boy I loved the most in high school was my daughter’s dad. He was my best friend. He knew all about the abuse going on between Ken and my mother. And he didn’t care that I lived in a trailer park. For a large portion of my life, he knew the depths of me better than anyone in the world. Even now, he understands the mechanisms that make me tick–the product of an abusive environment.

This is where I leave you for now.







T loves Kindra

He spray painted the words on the side of a random shed. Fluorescent pink screamed against green corrugated metal. A little ginger bitch who lived in a goldenrod trailer saw the declaration, and she promptly told my mother. This girl’s nickname was Saginaw News, because too often you didn’t even know your own goddamned business until she hollered. Once, she heard me say “fuck,” and I had to race her to my trailer to make sure she couldn’t tell on me. I was pretty impressive on my feet as a teen; you should have seen me run when Saginaw News caught me smoking.

My mother was passionately protective; she wanted to prevent any and all trailerparkal tendencies from developing in her daughters. The kids knew every single thing my sister and I were not allowed to do. Swearing was one of those things, but I would have survived my mother’s disappointment in learning I had acquired a potty-mouth. Smoking would have warranted a severe grounding. But boys? Shit. Boys, all of them, were Satan incarnate. I was only permitted to spend time alone with one boy prior to turning sixteen, and that was because my mother believed he was gay. Given my mother’s life experience, I knew she didn’t keep boys away from me for the fun of being mean.

Keeping my clothes on was easy for me as a young teen, though I did feel out of place–embarrassed among the circle I socialized with in Contaminated Manor; kids were always sucking face, sucking cock, finger fucking, fucking fucking. My mother had me so afraid of sexual contact of any kind, I freaked the crap out when T first kissed me in the summer grove. It wasn’t even a French kiss. I was only thirteen, but I felt like I was supposed to let him ram his tongue into the back of my throat. I wanted to let him; T was really cute with his blond skater haircut and fudge brownie eyes. Gaaahhh…

When my mother approached me with questions about T loves Kindra, I feigned stupidity. Funny, she believed me when I said I didn’t have a boyfriend. She always believed me. But! every time she got wind that a boy liked me, she sharpened up on her supervision. Like, I had to stay in our own yard supervision. And she had spies working for her when she was at work. I swear, she hired Saginaw News.

We lived in Contaminated Manor for two years before moving into a fancy trailer park with my mother’s boyfriend. That’s when shit got REAL. Another memoir for another time.




A handful of white clover for Mother. She’ll place them in a paper vase–a small Dixie cup printed with a pink and yellow tulip pattern. On the kitchen windowsill, the bouquet will wilt in a few days time. But I’m her personal florist, and it’s summer–plenty more days ahead. I know she prefers my clovers over Dad’s red roses. My gifts aren’t apologies.

Tara, Nicole, and I arrived at 4:30 in the afternoon. It was already growing dark. Uncle Kenny and the kids had left by then to go home–to go decompress for a while.

You looked dead already when I crawled into your dim room, trying to hold my guts in. Tara waited for me, followed me, because I’m the big sister. I wasn’t afraid of you, only afraid of myself–afraid of what I might not do. But I’m strong even when I’m falling apart, like you were up to the end. So, I did go to you, and I touched you. I stroked your hair. I had never noticed before yesterday the child-like size of your ears. How did those little things ever keep your glasses attached to your head?

Your glasses had been removed; your eyes were closed.

I told a story Nicole had never heard. A funny one about the time you and mom pushed me through the living room window of an empty house mom was interested in buying. My first felony. We all laughed, and I know you heard because I watched your eyes flutter the whole time I was talking. I knew before seeing you I was going to say something that would have made you laugh. If not for the ventilator–the tubes stuffed down your throat to help you breathe.

I’d been making you laugh my entire life. I’ll never again hear you laughing out loud. I loved your laugh. I believe everyone who had the pleasure to know loved your laugh.

Tara and I switched back and forth, spending our last intimate moments with you. I don’t know what she’d said to you, and that’s okay–those quiet words of hers were meant for you alone.

“Aunt Denise, I love you so much. You’ve been one of my favorite people in this life. You’ve always been strong, and you’ve been fighting so hard. But if you need to go now, it’s okay.” That is what I said to you. Your eyes fluttered. My best friend told me today I did a beautiful thing–I sent you home in a sea of love.

You were non-responsive to all stimuli before your husband and children could get back to the hospital. Your attending nurse was so kind to us when she explained you were gone.

We weren’t there to see Uncle Kenny’s face upon learning the news. And Heaven help me, I’m glad I didn’t have to watch him fall apart–my beloved uncle, the sweetest man in my world.

Dear Aunt Denise,

Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being proud of me. Thank you for being my mom when I needed one–and when Tara needed one. Thank you for being the best friend I needed so many times. Thank you for always telling me the truth. I’ll live the rest of my life with your wisdom in my heart. I promise to always do what’s right.

I love you forever,


Oh, goddamn! My aunt is dead.

She’s dead.

She’s fucking dead. I still have her glass serving bowl, and I want her back.


Oh, Girl.

Mom couldn’t stand the silence of night after Dad left; couldn’t stand the blaring introspection. And she couldn’t sleep alone. I wanted to sleep alone–needed to curl up alone and be. I was eleven years old, sleeping in a goddamned waterbed with my mother, and my six year old sister between us.

The bed was a fancy one with a darkly stained headboard; on either side of a lightly smoked mirror were shelves decorated with glass bowls of potpourri, and a pair of brass sailboats set upon polished rocks–an anniversary gift from Dad to Mom. The radio alarm clock with glowing green digits took up the bottom shelf on my side of the bed–the side Dad had abandoned. Cars 108 played softly.

I always lay awake a few hours after bedtime, anticipating the vomit. Tara was quite poorly the first few months without Dad; she’d awake in the night, vomiting tar-like sadness into a fucking Tupperware bowl. I would rub my sister’s back while Mom stroked her hair, and wiped her mouth with a damp cloth. I will never forget that sound of violent retching.

I swear on my life, every night that I finally fell asleep in my mother’s bed, I would awake early in the snoring dark morning, sweating, and The Chi-Lites would be singing, “Oh, Girl.” And I would cry tears so hot, they burned my cheeks; heavy ones that ran into my ears.