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Birthday Surprise, 2003

by Lourdes Dolores Follins

“Ma, whaddya wanna do fur yer birthday?” I nervously ask my mother. Her fifty-fourth birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and I am calling to find out if I need to take the day off to spend time with her. She still lives in our hometown, Staten Island, N.Y., while I live in Brooklyn—only fourteen miles apart, but a world away. I’m half hoping Mom says I don’t need to miss work. I nervously play with my short, black two-strand twists and wait with bated breath as I walk into my bathroom. Glancing at my smooth brown skin in the chrome-rimmed medicine cabinet mirror, I adjust my nose ring.

“Oh, I dunno,” my mother comments. Somehow, she manages to make a two-syllable word (‘dunno’) have three syllables.

I’ve been asking Mom the same question every year for the past four years, and each time, she seems surprised by my question. Four years ago, when I turned thirty, I realized that if I wanted our strained relationship to improve, I had to be more accepting of her and be the one to make the effort to change it.

As a child, I was a satellite in my mother’s world, soundlessly orbiting her. Mom often worked overtime at her job as a psychiatric nurse so that she could send me to parochial school. That meant she was usually either sleeping or getting ready to go to work when I came home from school. The few times we were around each other, Mom rarely spoke to me. She raised me to speak when spoken to, so I learned to be silent. I interpreted Mom’s silence as disinterest in me and because she often complained about being tired, I studiously stayed out of her way. A voracious reader, I secretly wished that Mom was like those White, middle-class mothers I read about in the Judy Blume and Nancy Drew books she bought for me each month—warm, doting, and attentive. I assumed that she too, believed in the stories in those books and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. So, I worked harder at getting good grades.

Before I started contacting my mother for her birthday, I barely called her because we have nothing in common except being Black women and even that we experience differently. Mom is a Baby Boomer who never discussed race and racism with me, while I, her Generation X daughter, constantly fumed to friends about the racial microaggressions and systemic racism I faced at the historically White schools my mother worked so hard to pay for. As a result, I always think about race and racism. I imagine that we’ve both experienced racial discrimination and microaggressions, but Mom’s response is to ignore them and work harder, while mine is to call out people and fight back. An example of this was when I was called a nigger, the ten-year-old version of me cussed out that little White boy the best I could. When I told her about it, Mom simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “People are stupid.”

But the main reason I barely speak with my mother is because she rarely calls me. I’m not sure if it’s because Mom doesn’t want to talk to me, she forgets about me, or because she’s busy with work and other family members. However, when we do talk on the phone, the ‘conversations’ tend to be soliloquies for her. This is a continuation from my childhood—all of our conversations revolved around her: her work, her life, her thoughts. But I am working to change our relationship and making the effort to spend time with her for her birthday is part of that process.   

As a result of those books and 1970s television shows, I subscribed to the societal belief that every daughter should want a good relationship with her mother. But by the time I turned thirty, I’d accepted the fact that we would never be like those White TV families. As working-class Black people, we had more important things to focus on, like surviving in a borough that didn’t want us there and working twice as hard to get half as far in work and in school. I wanted our relationship to improve not out of obligation, but because it was the right thing to do. As a Black woman, I believed it was my duty to foster a relationship with Mom in a world where we are all we have. Also, I look like my mother: I have her almond-shaped eyes, oval-shaped face, and very expressive eyebrows. Even though she annoys the heck out of me, how could I not have her in my life when I am constantly reminded of her when I look in the mirror?

So, today I pace while Mom thinks.

“Whaddya mean, you don’ know?” All my life, I’ve worked hard to suppress my Staten Island accent because I think it sounds ugly and coarse. It reminds me of the anti-Blackness I experienced from White Staten Islanders. But when I’m speaking with my mother and I’m frustrated (these two things often go hand in hand), it slips out. Staten Island-ese sounds like a cross between Brooklyn-ese (think Saturday Night Fever, Do the Right Thing, or Just Another Girl on The IRT) and New Joisy-speak, but a little slow-a.

“I dun-no.”

“Ma-a-a-a-a-a-a!” Exasperated, I try another route. “Well, if you could do anything for yer birthday, what wouldja wanna do?” I’m still pacing.

“Oh, I dun-no…”

“Ma, yuh know we go through this every year, right?”

“And every year, I dunno what I wanna do for my birthday. I know what I want for my birthday, but I nevah know what I wanna do for my birthday.”

“Well, whaddya want?” I ask with trepidation, even though I know what’s coming next. I put my hand on my Gladys Knight forehead, as if it will ward off the impending headache.

“A million dollas!” With that, Mom cracks up. She has made herself laugh so hard that she doesn’t even notice that I’m not laughing at the same old, tired joke she’s been making for years. I roll my eyes, hold the phone away from me, and stare at it incredulously for a minute. Then, I sigh.

“If you could do any-thing for yer birthday, Ma, what wouldja wanna do?” I ask again, hoping this time will be the charm.

“Hmm. I nevah really gave it that much thawt.”

“Give it some thawt now, Ma. We can do whatever you wanna do. We can go wherever you wanna go, and you can have anybody you want present.” I plunk down on my futon and sit cross-legged. I glance over at my orisha altar and silently ask Obatala to give me strength and patience. Conversations with Mom are like walking with a toddler—slow-moving at times, wandering to whatever topic catches her attention.

“Oh…” she responds finally.

Mom has never considered the fact that she can choose who to spend her birthday with. I know this is foreign and radical to her. I give her this option because my mother is still angry with my dad for losing their rent-to-own home last year. My family had lived there for twenty-four years and, in keeping with their overall lack of communication about challenging topics, Dad didn’t tell Mom that he fell behind in the rent. As a result, they were evicted. I figure not being with Dad will make her birthday easier for all of us.  

I can hear the cogs of Mom’s mind turning through the telephone wires. At times, they creak as if they haven’t been oiled in years and at other times, they quickly glide against one another.

“I wanna go to a casino,” Mom says.  

I shake my head, astonished. In the process, my hair shakes a bit and my large silver hoop earrings gently slap the side of my face.

“A ca-seeno?! You wanna go to a casino fer yur birthday?” I stop myself from climbing on a soapbox about gambling and pissing away one’s money because I did say that if she wanted to do something, go somewhere new—besides going out to eat at her usual spots, Perkins and Charlie Brown’s—I would go with her.

“Okay, Mom. We’ll go to a casino. Who do yuh wanna to go with, besides me? It can be just the two of us or you can invite anyone else you like.” I half expect her to say that she wants Dad to join us because they go almost everywhere together.

“Nobody.”

“Hunh. Okay, do you want to invite any of your friends?”

“No.”

I am relieved. The prospect of spending the day with Mom and her girlfriends would drive me to drink. They’re nice enough, but my mother doesn’t seem to know any other reserved middle-aged women; her friends talk non-stop and they would talk at me. In her friend group, Mom is the quietest of them all. There’s Pat, a boisterous African American woman who laughs so loud that God covers their ears; there’s Beverly, a garrulous Jamaican woman who’s always got some rip-roaring tale about her family members, and then, there’s the other Pat, an Irish American woman who claims to be a witch. Of course, all of these women are psychiatric nurses like my mother.

“Is there any particular casino that you’d like to go to? One that you’ve visited before or have wanted to visit?”

“No. I mean, I’ve been to Atlantic City and that’s fine.”

My face involuntarily wrinkles in a disapproving frown. Hmpf. You can go there any time! If I’m going to schlep to a casino, it betta be someplace we can explore togetha, I think to myself. Because Mom lives in Staten Island, she can get to Atlantic City in two hours. Less, if she’s driving with her usual ‘lead foot.’ 

“How about we go somewhere you haven’t been?” I ask.

As if on cue, the catchy jingle from the 1996 Mohegan Sun casino commercial pops into my head. “Moe-hee-gun Sunnnnn!” The first time I saw the commercial in the 90s, I thought, “Oh, cool!” But then I realized that it was land owned by the indigenous Mohegan people in Connecticut and I was ambivalent about the fact that an Indigenous tribe needed to make money through casino ownership. Questions about reparations for Indigenous people and the morality of facilitating gambling addiction, alongside images of busloads of barely ambulatory senior citizens clutching walkers with those greenish-yellow, Wilson tennis balls on the bottom, and smoke-filled rooms ringing with the cries of people losing their life savings danced in my head. Shaking these images out of my mind, I suggest we go to Mohegan Sun and Mom is game. She’s not usually an adventurous type, but if she’s driving, she’s down to go almost anywhere.

With that, it’s a done deal. Mom and I are going to spend the day together, at a casino! I’ve never been to a casino before because they’ve never appealed to me and even though it’s my idea, I’m nervous about spending the entire day alone with my mother. Did I mention that my mother doesn’t really talk with me, that she talks at me, without pausing or coming up for air? It’s as if she’s throwing pasta at a wall and seeing what sticks.

Most of the time when we’re on the phone, I take a break by gently laying down the receiver while she’s talking and walk away to tend to something more pressing (cooking, dusting, folding laundry, etc.). When I pick it up again, I’m sure Mom didn’t even notice that I was off the line (she never does). But driving together for almost three hours is daunting because I can’t remove or shut off my ears, jump out the car window, or anything subtle like that. No, I’m going to be stuck listening to my mother talk at me for almost three-long-Gawd-forsaken-hours. Alone. Did I mention that we’re going to be alone? I just want to make sure.

***

The day of Mom’s birthday, I call her soon after I awaken at around 6:45 am, because I’m fairly certain she’s awake.

“Heh-low?” Mom sounds groggy. I doubt she’s slept soundly. Mom sleeps with the TV on; she says she listens to it while sleeping.

“Hi, Ma! Happy birthday!!” A few years ago, I began what I think is a cute tradition where I call my mother twice a year—once for her birthday and once for mine—to wish her a happy birthday. Mom never seems to fully get it, but she always humors me, says, “Thank you” and then falls silent. In keeping with said tradition, that’s what happens this morning.

“Whaddya doin’?” I’m trying to be chipper. I’ve prepped and psyched myself up for this trip for the past two weeks. I talked to all the people in my support system (i.e., those to whom I have complained about Mom’s emotional coldness and seeming indifference about my life): my girlfriend; my closest friends; my spiritual godmother; and various people from my 12-Step fellowships. They all assured me that this would go well, or if it didn’t go well, it wouldn’t go too badly. Honestly, I expect the latter.

“Oh, just watchin’ the news,” Mom replies.

“Where’s Dad?”

“In the living room, I guess.” I imagine her shrugging as she says this. The living room is so close to my parents’ bedroom that she can hear if Dad is there. I decide not to probe about Mom’s lack of interest in Dad’s whereabouts. Since the eviction, Mom doesn’t have a kind word to say to or about Dad; it seems as if he can do nothing right in her eyes. This breaks my heart as Dad is the parent who taught me things (chess, using hand tools, cooking, gardening) and let me ask questions. Although Mom provided for my material needs, Dad nurtured me in his quiet, patient way.

“Okay, so are we still goin’?” I ask with crossed fingers.

“Yeah,” Mom affirms.

Drat! I think to myself.

Why? Did somethin’ come up?” Mom asks. She almost sounds like she’ll be disappointed if we don’t go.

“No, just checking. What time do you wanna meet up?”

“I’ll pick you up at eleven.” I know that really means eleven-thirty, noon.

“Okay! See you then, Mom.”

***

Like clockwork, Mom picks me up at noon. It’s just above seventy degrees, so I’m wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of navy-blue sneakers. I’ve got a tan, lightweight jacket, my Nikon camera, and a few toiletries in my forest green backpack. As my mother pulls up in her navy-blue car, she’s smiling a bit.

“Hi, Ma!”

“Hi,” she says weakly. She stiffens as I give her a peck on the cheek. For years, I thought Mom didn’t like it when I gave her a kiss. I’ve since realized that she freezes up and moves away when anyone (except young children) is physically affectionate with her.

“I printed up the directions, so we’re good to go!” And with that, we’re off! With WCBS-FM playing in the background, I direct my mother to the first leg of our journey.

“How’s Cassandra?” I ask. Mom’s relationship with my twenty-year-old sister has grown progressively worse over the years. There’s a fourteen-year age difference between my sister and I, so we’ve never been close. Although Dad and my sister had a great relationship, my parents only found out that Cassandra was expecting because my mother snooped in her things. By then, she was seven months pregnant with my niece, Kira.

“Oh, yuh know… she’s workin’ fifteen ‘ours a week at Sears. She’s makin’ signs and puttin’ them up around the store. She seems tuh like it.” Mom shrugs and frowns.

“Fif-teen? Why so few hours?” Since my sister isn’t paying rent and doesn’t have to buy anything for my niece, I figure she can save money so that she can move out of our parents’ home. In my mind, she’s taking advantage of them.

“Oh, I dunno. Yuh havta ask her. But she took Kira to see Gabriel and his family.” Gabriel is my four-year-old niece’s father, but he and Cassandra broke up soon after she became pregnant. My parents didn’t even know my sister was dating someone, let alone that she was having sex. “And, she’s been disappearin’ for ‘ours and then, comin’ back like nothin’s happened.” Mom sounds indignant.  

“Ohhh.” Glancing over at her, I notice Mom’s thick hands gripping the steering wheel a bit tighter. Her nails are freshly painted in Fire Engine Red, but her cuticles are dry and cracking. Her Jheri curl is as moist as a freshly baked, Betty Crocker Bundt cake. Two short, dark brown hairs sprout from her jawline and a few gray hairs insistently peek out from her dyed, ear-length bob. My eyes get wide and I gulp. The situation doesn’t sound good and I’ve avoided giving my parents advice on how they should handle it. I steer the conversation to neutral territory—the song playing on the radio. It’s Nelly Furtado’s, “I’m Like A Bird.”

“Hey! Didn’t this song win a Grammy last year?”

“Oh, yeah! It did.” Significant discomfort averted. For the next two and a half hours, Mom and I chat about her job, Kira’s capers in daycare, the latest thing Dad did to piss her off, my mother’s friends’ drama, and wherever else my mother’s mind goes. Much to my relief, it’s a relatively smooth conversation. Mom typically only sees her friends two or three times a year (even though they live in the same borough), so Dad ends up being the person she talks with the most. However, she’s still pissed at him, so she vacillates between berating him and chatting with him as if nothing happened. It occurs to me during the ride that talking with me provides Mom a much-needed outlet, so even though it’s draining for introverted me to be ‘on’ for this long, I oblige her. It is her birthday, after all.

When we finally reach the casino, Mom parks the car, and calls Dad to let him know that we’ve arrived. While she does this, I take out my little digital camera and start snapping pictures of her and the place so we can have something to commemorate the day. I’m twisting and turning like Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and Gordon Parks, trying to capture the way the sun’s rays land on my mother’s nut-brown face. Mom rolls her eyes at my antics as she adjusts her oversized denim button-down shirt over her grey t-shirt. She hefts a navy-blue tote bag over her right shoulder as she holds her cellphone to her ear. Her gold-tone eyeglasses sit perched on the bridge of her angular nose. I never noticed until now, but Mom stands upright like a solider—with her feet about a foot apart.

“We’re heah! Everything okay? Whaddya doin’?” she inquires, rapid fire. I don’t know how Dad does it. The way Mom asks him questions, it’s like he’s completing an oral obstacle course.

“Oh. Okay,” she replies. I suspect Dad said something satisfactory to Mom, for there is a smile creeping across her face. I exhale a bit. It’s become difficult for me to spend time around them when they’re together, because it’s too brutal and painful to watch. Mom is harsh and scathing, while Dad says nothing in response. The rare moment he snaps back—like a snapping turtle awakened by a child’s prodding—seems futile in comparison to Mom’s vicious verbal attacks. It wasn’t like this when I was a child; Mom was civil then.

“Alright. Well, I’ll give you a cawl when we’re leavin’. Bye.”

My right eyebrow creeps up on its own accord. I’m surprised that there was no badgering, no snide comment about how “pitiful” my dad is. Mom seems…peaceful, placid, like the man-made lake alongside the casino. I seize the moment and ask, “You ready tuh go in?”

“Yeah,” Mom says eagerly, as she stretches and arches her back a bit. That slight smile remains on her face as she steps forward in her black leather Reeboks and her navy blue, polyester elastic waist pants. She looks as if she’s heading in to do a shift at the state psychiatric hospital where she’s worked for most of my life. Her house keys, car keys, and some keys from work all dangle and clank against one another from the royal blue fabric lanyard keychain around her neck. I smell the flammable Soft Sheen Care Free Curl Gold Instant Activator—even though I’m standing four feet away from her—and am trying not to gag. I am well acquainted with that smell, having had a Jheri curl when I was in high school in the 1980s. Twenty years later, Mom is still hooked and loves the look.

As we walk into the casino, I notice the stacked stone veneer on the walls and the lit metal sconces. All the colors in the casino are muted, as if we’re in the desert. That is, a desert that’s actually a resort, with hundreds of slot machines and table games, several poker tables, forty-seven bars and restaurants, multiple nightclubs, a hotel, a spa, a golf course, a planetarium dome, concert and sports venues, and thirty-four shops. There are lights everywhere—bright lights, flashing lights, dim lights, and for some odd reason, strobe lights.

“My gawd! I hope there aren’t any epileptics here, with all the strobe lights.” As a nurse, Mom always notices the medical aspect of things. Meanwhile, I’m agog by the never-ending line of boutiques chock-full of gorgeous things. I’m a sucker for jewelry and nice clothes; I suspect it’s because Mom was never into those things. Both my grandmothers are clotheshorses; Mom is a workhorse. I’m a cross between the two, a workhorse trying to be a clotheshorse, but never quite succeeding. As I flit from store to store, oohing and ahhing, Mom chuckles with her hands folded behind her. After about two minutes, I realize she’s not even remotely interested in any of these things, so I flit back to my mother’s side like Black Tinkerbell and steer her towards what we came here for: the casino.

Once we enter the first casino room, Mom is in her element and I’m getting whiplash, looking from side to side, up and down. I quickly notice that almost all of the people here are middle-aged or senior citizens. There’s an East Asian posse of seniors with canes and large, colorful twenty-ounce plastic cups filled with something that’s making them guffaw and smile broadly. Just past them is an equally large group of Black senior citizens channeling the 1970s, wearing matching t-shirts, baseball caps, berets, and jeans, giggling with glee as one of their own has just struck it big. On the other side is a gaggle of White senior citizens in velour lounge suits chattering to each other, as they pull down their slot machine levers in sync. The only people under forty-five are Indigenous workers and me.

“Whoa!” I exclaim. “I had no idea…!”

“Whaat?” Mom asks. It’s also really loud in here. I make a mental note to check my hearing when I get back home.

“I had no idea so many…older people come to these places!” I’m not sure what the lingo is these days—‘old people’, ‘older people’, ‘senior citizens’, ‘elders’, or something else—and am trying to be respectful.

“Oh, yeah! They spend hours, even days heah. They come by bus!”

Just as I suspected, I think, pursing my lips in disapproval. “Hunh.” I eye the elders, looking them up and down, trying to figure out their deal. Where on earth did they get the money to be here? And what happens if they lose it all? I wonder. But it’s too loud for me to think clearly and too dimly lit for me to see much.

As I ponder the politics of the place and grimace at the intermittent mournful cries, Mom finds a slot machine at the end of an endless row of them and whips out a little black Le Sportsac bag. I inch closer, peer over her right shoulder, and realize the bag is filled with quarters.

“Ma! Ma!! Ma-a-a-a!!!” I shout until my mother hears me over the din.

“Whaaat?” Mom barely gives me a sidelong glance, transfixed on her mission.

“Can I have some?” I meekly point to the bulging bag.

“There’s a change machine ovah there,” Mom gestures over her left shoulder. This is the same woman who’s never given either of her children a sip from her cup or a forkful from her plate. Why on earth did I think she would spare some change?

“Okay.” I trundle off glumly to the change machine. I warily gawk at everyone I see seated in front of hundreds of slot machines that fill a room that has the size and acoustics of an auditorium. “Cling-ca-ching! Ding-ca-ching! Clunk-a-dunk!” These sounds bounce off the walls in supersonic stereo.

After getting thirty dollars’ worth of quarters, I wander back to where my mother is seated. Serendipitously, there’s an empty machine right next to her. It’s obvious that Mom’s done this before: her eyes barely leave the screen as her hand dips into the bag of quarters, picks up a quarter, drops it into the slot, grabs the lever, and pulls it down. A broad, toothy smile fills the bottom half of her face, as the light from the machine emits an eerie glow onto Mom’s face, making her look like a zombie. I don’t know whether to be horrified or awed, so I silently mimic her actions. Unlike Mom, I’m not numb to each successive loss of a quarter. It feels as if pieces of me are dying each time. I grimace, groan, and barely manage to stop myself from falling onto the floor, bawling in the fetal position. This goes on for two solid hours. Mom and I seated side by side, both losing money—I am the first to call ‘uncle’.

“Ma? You hungry?” I plead to God that she is; I’m not sure if I can take much more of the overwhelming sights, sounds, and loss of money.

“Not really… but I do havta go tuh the bath-room.”

“Hunh. Well, I’m hungry and tired. This place is wearing me out, Mom.”

Mom chuckles and flashes a smile. “Shucks! Just when I was about to start winnin’ again.”

I blanch at the thought that I took my mother away from a winning streak on her birthday, so I ask her if I am taking her away at a bad time.

“Kinda… I lose some, then I win some, then I lose some, and I keep playin’ ‘til I win it back. I was just beginning the part where I play to win it back.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mom!”

“It’s okay.” Mom glances at her gold-tone, stretch wristwatch. “We should be heading back soon anyway. It’ll be dark soon and I wanna avoid traffic.” And with that, Mom gathers her things, meticulously and unhurriedly. As she turns to me, I notice she walks like a grizzly bear—slow and heavy.

We leave and grab something at a McDonald’s on the way home because it’s her favorite restaurant. The car ride back to New York is smooth and easy, as I ask Mom questions about her previous experience at casinos. As she talks, there is a light in her eyes, and she looks free. I’ve never seen Mom look free before and I am taken aback by both the image and the realization. At some point, she mentions Dad and something he recently did that pissed her off. Feeling emboldened by the ease and levity of our conversation, I take a chance and ask Mom something we’ve never discussed before.

“Ma, do you love Dad?” My breath catches, for this is a question that I don’t know the answer to and I don’t know what possessed me to ask this. A pregnant pause follows as Mom’s mind registers the question.

“Yeah?” she replies as if she is half-asking herself.

“You do?” I’ve never seen my parents show any verbal or physical affection towards each other or talk about one another in even remotely loving ways in the twenty-eight years they’ve been together. I’m beyond shocked.

“Yeah….” Mom shrugs her shoulders as if to say, ‘I can’t explain it, but I do.’

“Hunh.” I’m not sure what to say now since we don’t discuss feelings in my family. But another question tumbles out of my lips before I can stop it. “Did you love my father?” I’m referring to my biological father, the man who co-created me. “Dad” is my stepfather, the man who raised me.

“Oh, yeah! Even afta he made me have an abortion.”

My head jerks involuntarily so that I’m staring at Mom’s profile with the sun setting behind her. “What?”

“He made me have an abortion after I had you.” Mom says this off-handedly, as if she’s talking about what she had for breakfast this morning.

Another question forcefully pushes past my lips. “How many have you had?”

“Two. One with your father, and the other with Harold before Cassandra was born.” Harold is Dad’s name.

Feeling as if I’ve been punched in my stomach and all the air has been sucked out of the car, I lean back in my seat and quietly hyperventilate. I didn’t know that my mother had any abortions, let alone two. As someone who’s never had an abortion or seriously considered giving birth, I can’t imagine Mom as a young woman making such a life-changing decision, nor can I imagine what it was like for her to undergo this procedure as many times as she’d given birth—twice. I catch my breath and stare out the window, barely noticing the lights from the storefronts and strip malls we pass on I-395.

As I collect myself, I recall that in my sophomore year of high school, Mom woke up early one weekend morning and quietly rushed around before leaving the house.

“Where you goin’? It’s seven o’clock in the morning!” I asked. I was reading the Sunday comics in the living room. Mom isn’t a morning person, so seeing her moving around so quickly and so early in the morning was unusual.

“To Washington. There’s a march,” she replied, as she grabbed a tote bag and her jacket. Mom only walks to and from her car, so I couldn’t imagine her marching anywhere, with anyone, for any reason. Sixteen-year-old me stood with my mouth agape, watching Mom brim with excitement. Mom’s pretty impassive most times and hardly ever looks excited about anything. It was odd.

Bringing myself back to the present, I ask, “Hey, didn’t you go to some march when I was in high school?”

“Yeah, the March fer Women’s Lives in ’86. It was organized by NOW.” Mom responds, as she looks at the road. The lights on the highway are all we have to guide us now.

“Wow! You marched?” I gaze at my mother in awe.

Mom chuckles. “Yeah, for a bit. But then I got tired, so I stood on the sidelines and listened to the speakers. It was thrilling!”

“Wow. I had no idea.” I murmur, turning back to look out the window. “You are full of surprises, Mom.”

Mom laughs and says, “I don’t know about that….”

I do.”

I’d learned more about my mother in one day then I’d ever learned in the thirty-plus years that I’d known her. All this time, I’d only seen her as someone who loved her job more than she loved her children. I never considered Mom’s inner life or what her life was like before she had my sister and me. Clearly, I really didn’t know my mother. The word ‘love’ was never spoken in my parents’ home. So to hear Mom say that she loved the two men she’d only ever been with is both jarring and oddly reassuring. Weary from the day, I lean back in my seat and ponder what to do with this new information and more importantly, how it will change how I see Mom from now on. 


BIO

Lourdes Dolores Follins is a Black queer woman who comes from a long line of intrepid women and working-class strivers. She’s been published in Rigorous, Watermelanin, What Are Birds, HerStry, Feminine Collective, Writing in A Woman’s Voice, Writing Disorder, and elsewhere. When she isn’t writing, she works as a psychotherapist with QTIPOC and kinky people. Check her out at www.lourdesdfollins.com





The Other Daughter

by Lourdes Dolores Follins


On the Monday after Thanksgiving I was back at work after the long weekend. As a Black, queer, female psychotherapist who mostly works with queer people of color, many of my clients have feelings about seeing—or not seeing—their families for the holidays. I had five sessions scheduled that day and as expected, most clients needed to debrief. Thanksgiving with my sweet, self-centered, and well-intentioned in-laws was as trying as usual, but my wife and I always use the holiday as a bonding moment.

Even though I was well-rested on Monday, by mid-afternoon, I was halfway through what was turning out to be an emotionally draining day. Eager for a distraction, I checked my email and noticed this cryptic message:

From: Yida G.
To: Lourdes D Follins
Subject: Re Leon Follins

Hello my name is Yida G., Im a very close friend of your fathers. Please contact me as soon as possibel regarding your father. My number is +13869519216 . 
Best regards
Yida G.

Initially, I did not know what to make of the email and was confused. The formal grammar and typos led me to think it was a scam; especially since I hadn’t seen or heard from my biological father in twenty-five years. The last time I saw him was when I was twenty-three years old. Before that, I hadn’t seen him since I was five years old, when my parents’ divorce was finalized.

Suspicious New Yorker that I am, I Googled this Yida G. I found out that she and I were the same age, she was married to a man with a British surname, and she had a criminal record. With a raised eyebrow, I sent the following cool response:

Subject: Re Leon Follins

Hello,
Thank you for reaching out to me. I am in meetings for most of the day every day this week and will not be able to call you until the weekend. Please email whatever you need to share with me about my father.
Wishing you well,
Lourdes D. Follins

I figured if she really knew my father and if something was really wrong, she’d get back to me. Thirty minutes later, I received a more straightforward email from someone else:

From: Joseph K.
To: Lourdes D Follins
Subject: Death of Your Father

Hi Lourdes,

I live in Orlando, Florida. I am a friend of Leon Follins, your father. He told me that in the event of his death, you should be contacted as his only living child.  Please call my cell phone on 407-421-7040.  

Thank you.

Dead? How is that possible? He’s only…sixty-eight, I mused, calculating my father’s age. And why tell me?  Puzzled, I looked up this Joseph K. While I was searching for information about him, he sent me an identical email, this time through my business website. So, I called him.

“I’m sorry to tell you that your father died this morning,” Joseph said. He sounded as if he was telling me that it was going to rain tomorrow.   

I felt a mixture of curiosity and numbness. “Do you know how he died?” I asked matter-of-factly. I always want to know how people die—whether it’s due to natural or unnatural causes. It helps me understand how to respond to people’s grief.

“Oh, I think he died of a heart attack,” Joseph offered. I tried to place his accent; it reminded me of the Nigerians I’ve met.

“So, he hadn’t been ill or sick, then?” I probed. I was curious to know how he died, especially since his medical history effects my medical history.

“No, no…I don’t think so. But if you contact Sister Yida G., she can give you more information. They were very close.”

I felt a twinge of discomfort at that phrase—“very close.” I wasn’t sure if she was a mistress or something else, but I knew that I had to respond to her email. The term “sister,” however, made me wonder about the nature of their relationship. After thanking Joseph for reaching out to me, I called Yida a few hours later. I had a couple more clients to see before the end of my day and needed to maintain my focus. I didn’t have time to think or feel; it was business as usual.

“Oh, hi!” Yida gushed as if we were long-lost friends when she answered my call. “I knew your father for the last few years and we became close.” There was that word again: “close.”

“Oh?” I swallowed my pride and unease and prepared to ask as many questions about my father’s death as possible.

“Yes! I met him and Claudette—she was his wife—at the Kingdom Hall and he helped my boys learn the Bible.” I vaguely recalled that my father became a Witness when he met Claudette, but we never discussed religion when we were in each other’s lives.

“Really?” I had been pacing in front of the picture window in my office while we spoke and caught a glimpse of my incredulous, scowling face staring back at me. Since he was absent for most of my life, I was both moved and hurt by the idea of my father helping someone else’s children.

“Yessss! He was a great influence on them and helped me get my husband to become a Witness,” she said excitedly. “Witness” is the word Jehovah’s Witnesses use to refer to themselves.

“So how did he die?” I was trying to be patient, but I was in-between clients and needed the call to be quick.

“You know, it’s odd… he died of a heart attack, but if he had called 911 earlier, I think he’d still be here,” Yida said.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, he called me a little after midnight, but I was asleep. When he couldn’t reach me, he then called about three or four other Witnesses to tell them that he wasn’t feeling well. I guess at some point, he just lost consciousness and wasn’t behaving rationally….”

“Hmmm. I guess not.” The fact that my father was dead and that I was officially an orphan at age forty-nine had just sunk in. I was at a loss for words and didn’t know how to feel. My mother died suddenly four years ago, and although she raised me with my stepfather, he was not legally my father. I’d never harbored any fantasies of reconnecting with my father and I was surprised that someone thought to contact me about his death. In fact, I rarely thought about him.

“The Witnesses wanted me to tell you that if there is anything that you need, just let us know.”

I’m wary of Jehovah’s Witnesses because in New York City pairs of modestly dressed twenty- and thirty-something Witnesses conduct door-to-door ministry with some regularity. They knock and ask to speak with you about “The Word of God.” Most people peer at them through a peephole and refuse to answer; however, people who are unfamiliar with the Witnesses are kindly but determinedly bombarded with offers to hear the “Good News” or to read a few colorful pamphlets when they open their door.

For those of us who are accustomed to living in a largely secular city, having proselytizing strangers knock on your door can feel like an assault or an invasion of your limited space and time. Older Witnesses are less assertive; they smile blandly while sitting next to fairly ornate stands filled with The Watchtower and Awake! Magazines. They distribute pamphlets with titles like, “What Can the Bible Teach Us?” and “How To Remain in God’s Love” in subway stations. Because of this, I am not inclined to ask the Witnesses for assistance. Also, I worried how they would treat me once Brother Joseph told them that I am queer. On my business website, I am explicit about being queer. I didn’t know how else to respond, so I just said, “Thank you.”

“So, when are you coming down to Orlando?”

“Um…I need to see, but if it’s possible I’ll be on a plane tomorrow. I’ll confirm with you later this evening, if that’s alright with you.” Even though I would have to close my practice for the next three days, something told me that this is what had to be done. Something told me that I needed to go to Orlando and be my father’s daughter, tending to his affairs, just like I did for my mother. All I felt was a sense of urgency, a sense that time was of the essence—just like I did when my mother died.

“Sure! It’s great that you can get down here so quickly. That’s great!” Yida sounded nervous, or maybe I was projecting. I was uneasy and uncomfortable. I wanted to know what their “closeness” looked like, but I had a sinking feeling that I would learn more than I wanted to know.   

Before we hung up, Yida said that my father had wanted to leave everything to me, his only child. This struck me as odd. I’d accidentally reconnected with him when I began tracing my ancestry at age twenty-two. At the time, I was living in Staten Island, New York and my father was living in Brooklyn, New York. Soon after we reconnected, I moved into the same coop building that he lived in. Most times we were together, my father was as quiet as his wife Claudette was vibrant and inquisitive. In the brief year that we passed through each other’s lives, Claudette was the one who took an interest in me. My father looked on with mild curiosity mixed with boredom while Claudette and I chatted.

The last time my father and I spoke, he called me a liar. I was about to graduate from a master’s program and had told him that I wasn’t going to attend the ceremony. I hated the program and commencement meant nothing to me.

“Well, if you change your mind, I’d love to attend,” my father said.

“Really?” I didn’t understand his enthusiasm, but I figured he wanted to make up for lost time since he’d missed other graduations and nearly everything in my life.

“Yes!”

I shrugged and said, “Okay. I doubt I’ll change my mind, though.” Days later, a few of my friends from the program cornered me. “You gotta go, Lourdes! It’s our graduation from this program. We survived it!!”

“Yeah, but we’ll be sitting in the middle of Washington Square Park listening to boring, old, irrelevant White men droning on about how ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’ and blah, blah, blah. I don’t wanna sit in the hot sun and listen to that for two, three hours! Plus, our names won’t get called, so there’s not going to be any focus on us. Why would I want to be a part of that?!?” I argued.

But my friends persisted and convinced me to change my mind. By that point, I only had a day or two to submit my request for guest tickets. I requested the maximum that we were allotted, three: one for my mother, one for my stepfather, and one for my sister. I put it out of my mind until the day of the event, three weeks later. I didn’t see my father again until a few days after commencement.

“How was your weekend?” he asked with a smile.

“Oh, it was okay. Commencement was as dull and dry as I expected…and the rest of the weekend was fine.”

My father’s jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed as I spoke. “You went to your commencement?”

“Yeah.” I was confused by his facial expression.

“You said you weren’t going,” he replied.

“Oh, yeah!” I remembered our conversation from four weeks prior. “After we spoke, my friends convinced me to go. They said it would be one last time for us to hang out,” I shrugged.

“Did your mother go?”

“Of course.” I didn’t understand where this was going.

“So, you lied,” he responded curtly.

“What?”

“If you didn’t want me to go, why didn’t you just say so? You didn’t have to lie.”

“But I didn’t lie. When we spoke, I wasn’t planning on going. After we spoke, my friends begged me to go. When I ordered the tickets, I didn’t remember that you and I spoke about it—until now.”

“You didn’t want me and your mother to be in the same space.” What? I thought. I was baffled. This was the furthest thing from my mind. Then I remembered that he believed that my mother still resented him after all those years. My mother had sole custody and since visitation with my father stopped when I was five, I think he assumed that I felt some sort of allegiance towards her. I did, but not enough to avoid bringing them together to celebrate my commencement.

 “Um…no, I forgot.

“You didn’t have to lie. You could’ve just said that you didn’t want me there.” My father’s lower lip poked out as he sulked. I had never seen him like this, and it felt as if there was nothing I could say to convince him that it was an oversight on my part. I was also angry because generally speaking, I don’t lie. I don’t purposefully tell mistruths, nor do I purposefully withhold relevant information from others. I feel uncomfortable lying. I worry about not remembering what I’ve said to whom. So, to be called a liar was insulting—especially from a man who barely knew me. After that, I never spoke to him again and it was the last time I’d seen him alive.

To learn my father left me everything was surprising because I remembered how hurt and offended I was the last time we spoke. The idea that my father would leave me anything besides some Watchtower pamphlets and a Bible stunned me. However, what helped me to push these feelings aside were my belief that my father owed me something after not providing for me when I was a child, a genuine sense of curiosity about his life, and my belief that as his adult child, it was my cultural duty as a Black woman to tend to his affairs. After briefly chatting with my wife and mulling the idea over, once I got home that evening I decided to fly to Orlando the next morning.

***

When I arrived in Orlando on Tuesday, Yida picked me up at the airport. I had seen a picture of her online, but I forgot to send her a picture of me. I was worried that we’d miss one another, but when she pulled up in her charcoal gray 2017 Ford Mustang, she behaved as if we were bosom buddies. She leapt out of the car, beaming, her dark brown ringlets wildly framing her face. She reminded me of the brown-skinned Afro-Cubans in my Yoruba-Lukumi religious community back home. At six feet, Yida dwarfed me as she enveloped me in a big hug. She giggled a bit and it seemed as if she were stopping herself from clapping her hands with glee. Instead, she clasped them together and squeezed. I was dumbstruck by this excitement from someone I’d never met.

“Hi! Oh my gosh, you look just like your father!” All my life, I had been told how much I resemble my mother, so Yida’s comment surprised me.

“How was your flight? This is my youngest son, Ian,” she chirped as she relieved me of my suitcase. Ian unfolded his nearly six-foot self out of the back seat and smiled shyly. I held onto my backpack because it held my laptop and other valuables.

“Hi there…! It was uneventful,” I fibbed. I was so nervous about the trip that I barely slept. I developed a pounding headache on the plane and was dehydrated because of the stress. To make matters worse, the young and very in-love Latinx couple seated next to me chattered the entire flight. I was drained.

“Hi, I’m Lourdes.” I extended my hand to the sheepish and lanky sixteen-year-old Ian. He weakly but politely shook my hand. I couldn’t tell if he was nervous, didn’t want to be there, or both. After two minutes together, I gathered that Ian was a neutralizing force to his mother’s frenetic energy—which is exactly what I needed. I told myself I would circle back to him later. I needed to focus on Yida so I could figure out her relationship with my father. Although I was eager to begin sorting through my father’s things, something told me to follow Yida’s lead.

As soon as I settled into the front seat, Yida reminded me that my father’s body was still at the hospital morgue. “Brother Michael was with him when he was taken to the hospital by the ambulance, but they need a family member to release his body.”

My mother died at home, so her body was taken to the morgue by the Medical Examiner’s office, then picked up by the funeral home that my stepfather selected. At first, I didn’t understand why my father’s body needed to be moved. “Okay…?”

“I mean, Brother Michael is listed as his ‘brother’ on his Medical Directive Card, but he’s not ‘family,’ you know? We need you to decide whether you want to go get his body released or see if they will let Brother Michael do it.” Yida was referring to the signed Advance Medical Directive Card that Jehovah’s Witnesses carry in their wallets. The card instructs medical providers not to perform blood transfusions on Witnesses and lists at least three or four people as countersigners. The Witnesses interpret several Biblical verses from the Old and New Testament as God’s command to avoid allowing blood into their bodies.

Ahhh! I’m considered family even though we have not been in touch for decades. Our blood relationship overrides relationships with the people who actually knew my father…. I realized. Scenes from old episodes of CSI Las Vegas when people were asked to identify their family members’ corpses flashed across my mind and I felt a bit queasy. I imagined seeing my father lying on a cold metal slab, with a plastic sheet covering most of his body as he lie in repose. What if I don’t recognize him? I wondered nervously. It had been twenty-five years since I’d seen him. My mental picture of him was so hazy that I wasn’t sure that I would know if it was my father or some other Black man.

“Okay…. sure!” I shrugged. “Let’s contact Brother… Michael, you said?”

“Yes, Brother Michael Jackson,” Yida confirmed with a nod.

“Seriously? His name is Michael Jackson?” I turned and looked at Yida, thinking she was joking.

“Yep, that’s his name!” Nodding, she added, ”He gets that a lot…!”

Brother Michael Jackson agreed to meet us at the Orlando Regional Medical Center so I could claim my father’s body. It was on me to call a local funeral home once the morgue agreed to release his body to them. When we met Brother Michael Jackson at the hospital’s Information Desk, the Patient Services Representative told us that hospital policy had changed; family members were no longer allowed to see the deceased in the morgue. Family members could only call to tell the morgue where they wanted the body sent. So I called the morgue.

“Morgue! Jensen speaking,” a woman gruffly answered.

“Hi, I am calling to see if my father, Leon Follins’s body is still there.” Although it felt odd referring to him as my father, I coated my voice with enough honey so as to make this go more smoothly.

“What’s your name?”

“Lourdes Follins. I’m his daughter and his only living relative,” I added. I fibbed this last part, since I wasn’t sure if his older sister, my Aunt Anita was still alive. The two of them were never close.

“Follins, you said?”

“Yes….” I was losing my patience. This felt like it was taking too long and I was weary.

“Yep! He’s here. What do you want us to do with him?” Gruff Lady asked.

 “I have asked the Buena Vista Funeral Home to come pick up his body. Could you please make sure that he is released to them?”

“Sure. Just have them call us first so we can prepare the body.”

“Okay! Will do. Thanks for your help!” I cooed as I turned back towards the Witnesses.

Yida looked at me and tried to read my face. “Everything okay?”

“Sure! I just need to call the funeral home and tell them that the Morgue will release my father to them.”

“Oh, okay. So, we’ll wait ‘til you finish to tell you about the plans for the memorial.”

I was taken aback since yesterday Yida told me that the Witnesses wouldn’t be able to pull together a memorial for my father while I was in town. That was perfectly fine with me because I knew that I would have enough to do and did not want to have to contend with anything else. Turning away from them again, I called the funeral home to pick up my father’s body and arranged to complete the requisite paperwork the next morning.

When I turned back to my father’s friends, they were talking about the last time they had each seen my father and how shocked they were by his sudden death. Brother Michael Jackson told me about the possible memorial.  

“If we can make it happen before you leave, it would be great if you could join us,” he said with a smile. “Your father was loved by so many people and it would mean a lot to them if they could meet you,” he added. I did not understand this and wondered if they would they still embrace me once they found out I’m queer.  

“Sure,” I nodded, secretly hoping they wouldn’t be able to pull together a memorial so soon.

“Great!” Yida exclaimed.

After we parted ways with Brother Michael Jackson, Yida and Ian regaled me with stories about their lives as we drove towards downtown Orlando. I asked Ian about himself and was pleased that he opened up so much with each question. It was like watching a peony in bloom—the broad petals initially closed tightly like a fist and slowly but surely unfolding, stretching open in layers. Within an hour, Ian was smiling, chuckling, and initiating conversation with me from the backseat. Chatting with Ian provided some respite from Yida’s bubbliness. I found it odd that she was so chatty and effusive. I expected her to show her grief more given how “close” she and my father were.

Yida asked if I was hungry and what I felt like eating. I gestured to the Vietnamese restaurant we had just driven by.

“Vietnamese? Hunh! I don’t think I’ve ever had Vietnamese food,” Yida said, while making a haphazard U-turn. Looking in the rearview mirror, she asked, “Have you ever had Vietnamese food, Ian?”

“No, Mom. Never,” he responded while typing away on his cellphone.

“If you like Chinese food, you’ll like this. It’s like Chinese food with a richer flavor and a bit more spice,” I offered. As a connoisseur of East Asian food, I knew this wasn’t entirely true, but I didn’t think they would know the difference.

Like twins, Yida and Ian shrugged their shoulders in sync and Yida said, “Really?? I had no idea! Sure, why not?”

Over hot bowls of pho, Yida told me how she had met my father and his wife, Claudette at Kingdom Hall eight years ago. They became close when my father took an interest in her three sons. At the time, she was a Witness mother with three teenage boys, but her husband was not a Witness yet. With my father’s help, Yida’s husband converted and her sons learned the Bible. In between slurps of broth, Ian chimed in with memories of my father. I smiled as I saw him experiment by adding varying amounts of spicy red sriracha sauce and aromatic bunches of fresh green basil and crunchy white mung bean sprouts in his large bowl of beef pho.

Between the two of them, they created an image of my father as a wise, grounded, and focused older man guiding and supporting a young family as they deepened their faith. This was a man I had never known. I knew him as someone who disappeared a few years after he joined the Navy, a man who later wrote my mother letters begging her to let him see me when I was five years old. I was curious to learn more about this man, this version of my father.

“So, my father and Claudette were like grandparents to you?” I asked Ian.

Yida looked over at him. “Well, since my father isn’t in my life, yeah, I guess you could say that Leon was like a grandfather to them,” she said as if she’d realized it for the first time. I felt sorry for and empathized with her; my stepfather was a great dad, but I was always aware that he wasn’t my father. Ian nodded in agreement as he struggled to slurp up noodles using the tiny, ivory-colored melamine soup spoon that was designed to only hold broth. He sniffed from time to time; the red chili peppers in the sriracha sauce working their magic on his nose.

Soon after this conversation, I mentioned that I was tired, so we left the restaurant. Yida offered to drop me off. “So, where are you staying? Are you staying at your father’s house or at a hotel?”

“It hadn’t dawned on me that I could stay at my father’s house.”

“Oh! You know, I just kinda assumed that you’d stay there, but I don’t know why I didn’t ask you before,” Yida said ruefully.

“It’s okay. I’m fine with staying at the hotel tonight. I’ll stay at my father’s house for the rest of my time here.”

“Okay. Don’t let me forget to give you the papers that we found at your father’s house. They have all the information you need, but the Brothers and Sisters wanted me to let you know that if you need anything, all you have to do is ask.”

“Please let the Witnesses know that I appreciate the offer and will reach out if I need help,” I replied, even though I had no intention of calling on any of them.

“Of course!” she replied. As we continued on to my hotel, Yida casually mentioned that she and my father spoke almost daily after Claudette died. A stone lodged in my throat. What could they have to talk about every day? Yida mentioned that he was fit and in relatively good health, so he didn’t need to be looked after. Were they lovers? I wondered. As curious as I was, I was afraid to ask in case it was true. I didn’t want to think that my father had a romantic or sexual relationship with a woman old enough to be his daughter.

When we arrived at the hotel, Yida rummaged in her purse and handed me a large, tattered manila envelope that was bursting at the seams.

“This is the folder that I told you about on the phone. It’s got all the telephone numbers and other contact information you’ll need, as well as a piece of paper on which your father wrote out his wishes. He told me that he wanted to leave you everything. ‘Since I didn’t take care of her in life, maybe I can take care of her when I’m gone,’ he said. That was one thing that he kept telling me over and over in the past couple of years.”

Really?” I asked. First, I was astonished, then I was moved by my father’s sentiment. It showed me that he knew that he hadn’t done right by me. My shoulders and upper back ached from the day. It was then that I realized that I had not breathed deeply since I landed. Exhaling, I accepted the envelope and smiled weakly.

“Thank you for everything, Yida. I really appreciate your kindness and generosity. Ian, thanks for making the day a bit easier for me.” Adults tend not to acknowledge teens’ efforts to make them comfortable, so I thought that was the least I could do for him. Ian nodded humbly.

 “You’re very welcome! I’m not working tomorrow—I took a few days off from my job—so I can come pick you up tomorrow in the morning to take you to the funeral home and then your dad’s house,” Yida said.

“If it won’t be out of your way, Yida, that would be great.”

She waved away my concern. “I have an errand to run early in the morning, but it’s no problem to come get you afterwards. Just text me in the morning and let me know when you’re ready, okay?”

“Sure! That’d be great,” I said, sighing to myself with relief. With one last sigh, I bade them goodnight and headed inside.

After checking in, I trudged to my room and dumped my things on the bed. Although  exhausted, I was curious about the contents of the envelope that Yida handed me. I gently began pulling things out of it, almost ripping the envelope in the process.

“Shyte!” I winced and decided to take things out one-by-one. The first piece of paper was a handwritten document that my father created on June 25, 2018. It read: “In the event of my death, my daughter, Lourdes Dolores Follins, SSN# 134-50-9999, is my sole beneficiary.” What followed were my last known address, my date of birth, and the name of the person my father had designated as the executor of his estate and secondary beneficiaries in the event that I predeceased him. Yida and a man named Anthony W., from my father’s Kingdom Hall, were the secondary beneficiaries. Other things stuffed into the envelope were two black address books, a piece of paper that listed four institutions that needed to be contacted upon his death along with telephone numbers for them: the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, MetLife, and Stonebridge Insurance, and three copies of an unsigned will.

The rest of the documents in the envelope were of no use to me. While it was frustrating that most of the items in the envelope were not going to be helpful, I appreciated the Witnesses’ efforts to make things easier for me when I was to begin the task of managing my father’s estate. My left eye began to twitch, the way it does when it’s past my bedtime. Gingerly, I returned everything to the envelope, put it on the desk, undressed, and crawled into bed. Thoroughly depleted, I fell asleep within minutes.

***

Buena Vista Funeral Home was an ordinary, ranch-style house along the side of a highway. It was so nondescript that if it weren’t for the sign outside the building, we would have missed it. As we entered the building, a stylish, blonde, forty-something White woman who wore a jacket and looked as if she were heading out greeted us.

“Hi! Can I help you?” she asked in a slow, Florida drawl, as if she were chewing Laffy Taffy.

“Yes, I have an 11:00 am appointment with Brittany the Funeral Director,” I answered.

The woman escorted us to a cozy office with a window that faced the highway. As soon as we sat down, I understood why she had been wearing a jacket—the room was cold. My stepfather had been the Chief of Maintenance of a health clinic when I was a child, so I can tell whether a room was insulated or not. This room was not. As if on cue, Yida and I shivered in tandem as we looked around. Similar to the funeral home I used to cremate my mother, this room had a variety of urns in different materials, shapes, colors and sizes, necklaces for cremains, advertisements for other ways to display your loved ones’ cremains, and folded flag displays on clear glass shelves that lined two of the four walls in the room.

 “This is so unnatural!” Yida’s slightly pointed nose wrinkled up in disgust, as she shivered.

I’ve been called an abomination by passersby and told that my sexuality is “unnatural”, so I have a visceral response to the word. Also, at that moment, I felt protective of the death care industry. “I guess they want to give you as many options as possible to help you keep your loved ones near,” I shrugged.

“But it’s not supposed to happen,” Yida replied, shaking her head.

I sensed that we were not talking about the same thing. “What do you mean, ‘It’s not supposed to happen’?”

“Death! It’s unnatural…we’re not supposed to die,” she asserted.

Trying not to give her the side-eye, I gently pressed, “What do you mean?” I’m a licensed mental health professional and my mother worked as a psychiatric nurse with chronically mentally ill people for most of my life. I know a thing or two about delusions and how to recognize them.

“We’re not supposed to die… The Bible says, John 3:16, ‘He who believes in me will not perish, but will have eternal life.’ Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we get sick and die. And Romans 5:12: ‘Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.’ But we’re not supposed to die. We’re not supposed to get sick. We’re supposed to live forever!”

“Oh…okay…” I said, slowly nodding my head as if I understood her. I knew better than to challenge her, so I sat quietly and waited for Brittany. Yida continued to look around the room with disdain, while I suddenly became aware of the traffic outside. I watched cars changing lanes and occasionally heard the revving of engines.

“Hi, I’m Brittany!” A dumpy, natural blonde in her mid-twenties entered the room and offered her hand to Yida and me. She reminded me of the Pillsbury Doughboy, only with long hair. She too, sounded as if she had been eating Laffy Taffy. I shook her hand out of gratitude for the distraction.  

“Hi, I’m Lourdes Follins and this is my… Yida… my father Leon Follins’…friend.” I wasn’t quite sure how to refer to her: Mistress? Fellow congregant? So I settled on “friend.”

Once the pleasantries were over, Brittany asked us a series of questions that each of us answered individually because we each had access to different sets of information about my father. There were a few questions that neither of us could answer, like the highest level of education my father achieved. The only response we had for that question was a shrug.

“Was your father a veteran?” Brittany asked off-handedly.

“A veteran? No!” I scoffed. “I mean, he was in the Navy, but he went AWOL…Why?”

“Oh, if he was a veteran, you would get a flag to put next to his cremains.”

Frowning, I replied, “Oh. No, he wasn’t a veteran.” No one in my life would ever call me patriotic. Some of my ancestors were enslaved and victims of domestic terrorism in the United States. The idea of having an American flag in my house repulsed me.

After I initialed and signed all the paperwork, I paid the $787.00 to have my father cremated. Yida drove me to my father’s condo in a planned community called NorthLake at Lake Nona. We had come so that I could begin to settle his affairs. As soon as we crossed the condo’s threshold, Yida turned and handed me the house keys, which were attached to my father’s car key fob. Like the real estate agent that she once was, Yida showed me around the compact, two-story, four-bedroom condo with a two-car garage as if it was on the market.

Walking around the house of a dead man—a man I barely knew but who co-created me—was overwhelming. What struck me as odd was the lack of decoration. The only rooms that had anything hung on the walls were the living room, the dining area, and the kitchen. In the living room, a 12-inch gold-tone oval mirror hung behind the front door and two framed posters from the mid-1990s that advertised cultural events at the World Trade Center. In the dining area, a faded, framed poster of a music jam between male musicians hung behind the dining table, while in the kitchen there was a round, silver-tone wall clock hung over the sink. Besides these things, nothing in the house emitted an essence of its former inhabitant. No framed pictures, no pots of potpourri, no tchotchkes, no Post-Its with sweet little forget-me-nots written on them. Nothing of sentimental value was in the house. It looked like the glorified storage unit of a minimalist.         

After we toured the house, I laid my cellphone, my father’s keys, my wallet, and the manila envelope on a ledge that divided the dining room from the kitchen. Yida’s eyes widened when she noticed what I’d done.

“Oh my gosh! Your father used to do the same thing: line up his things side by side, in order like that.” She covered her mouth with her hand as if she was holding back something.

Taken aback by the coincidence, I stuttered, “O-oh! Really? I’ve always done this. I like things to be tidy and in order.” I had no idea we had this in common.

“So did your father!“ Tears filled Yida’s eyes and she looked away. “I thought it was something he got from being in the Navy,” she continued as she swallowed slowly.

Yida chattered on about the house, where things were located, and how my father had been looking forward to attending the 2019 Jehovah’s Witness Convention in Copenhagen. At some point, she took a breath, checked her watch, and realized that she had to run.

“Please don’t hesitate to call or text me if you need anything, or need help finding things. As I told you earlier, I used to come by to clean for your father after Claudette died two years ago, so I know where most things are located. Okay?”

I wondered if “clean for your father” was a euphemism for something else. “Thanks so much for everything, Yida! If I need anything, I will definitely reach out to you.”

Once Yida left and I found myself alone, I let out a deep sigh of relief. I momentarily shut my eyes. Feeling the cool wooden door against my shoulder blades, I paused and thought about what to do first. I brought my bags to what would be my bedroom for the next few days and got to work in my father’s office.

While meticulously going through my father’s papers on Thursday morning, I found his DD-214, the Report of Separation from Active Duty issued by the U. S. Navy. I recalled a moment when I was fourteen years old, coming across copies of letters my mother wrote to the Navy searching for my father, because he had stopped writing and stopped sending us money. At the time she wrote the letters, my mother was twenty-five years old and struggling to provide for both us with those monthly allotment checks and a nursing job. For the past thirty-five years, I told the story of how my father joined when I was three years old and then subsequently went AWOL—from the Navy, my mother, and me. That was the story I created for myself and the story that I knew to be true. But as I scanned the form, I noticed the word “Honorable” typed in the “Discharge Type” box, and circled, as if for emphasis. Bewildered, I almost dropped the paper as if it were on fire. I discovered that my father had received a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal, and a Combat Action Ribbon (1 Star). I stopped reading and heard myself speak aloud, indignant.

“You left us?” As my words hung in the air, I knew that that wasn’t the entire truth.

“You left us?” All this time, I comforted myself with the story that my father had abandoned not only my mother and me but also the United States Navy. That was more palatable—it seemed badass, even. A part of me liked the idea of being the Child of a Badass, the Child of Someone Who Rejected The U.S. Navy. But the DD-214 changed everything.

“You wanted to provide for me in death?!?” Gripping the wooden dining room chair, I shouted angrily, “I don’t need you now! I needed you then!!!”

Up until this point, I had been standing over the dining table with my father’s records divided into tidy piles, moving between the table and his large shredder, sorting as I went. Finally, I slumped over the chair and began to weep.

“I needed you then!” I imagined three-year-old me crying, reaching out for my father as he prepared to leave for boot camp and shuddered.

“Why did you leave us? Why weren’t we enough for you???” I wailed, tears streaming down my face with snot chasing them. As the sun poked through the Levolor blinds, my sobs ricocheted off the walls. I hadn’t expected to cry. But I needed to be here, in his house. I needed to see who he had become without my mother and me in his life. There was, it seemed, no way to be here without letting it all out. And so, I wept until there were no more tears left in me. With each Navy document I lifted out of my father’s file cabinet that day, the narrative I’d created at age fourteen changed. My image of my father became kaleidoscopic: constantly changing, more multidimensional, and increasingly nuanced.

Yida texted me asking if it was alright to come by to clean. Despite my protests about how I did not need her to do so, she insisted. As soon as she entered the house, she stopped in her tracks when she noticed my shoes and sneakers lined up by the front door.

“Oh my gosh! At first, I thought these were your father’s shoes, but when I took a second look, I realized they were yours. He used to line up his shoes like that too,” Yida noted with a tear in her eye. Not knowing how to respond, I smiled ruefully and shrugged. With that exchange, we both got to work. As I made my way through my father’s file cabinet, Yida quietly made her way around the house. About thirty minutes later, I heard a strange sound come from upstairs where Yida was. At first, I could not make out the sound, but then I recognized it: sobbing and the sound of air being sucked in when one is struggling to breathe. It was the sound of someone who had suppressed her tears, the sound of someone who hadn’t been able to mourn fully…openly. Yida eventually came downstairs with tears in her eyes, apologizing.

“Are you…okay?” I took a few halting steps towards her. Ordinarily, when I see a stranger cry, I reach out to them to see if they are okay. Yet, this was someone I barely knew, but with whom I was inextricably linked. I did not know whether to comfort her or let her be. I worried that reaching out would lead to another long, drawn-out conversation, and I was aware of how little time I had before I returned home. I had also been dreading the moment when Yida noticed my wedding ring and asked about a husband. My wedding ring belonged to my wife’s maternal grandmother and has a unique Art Deco design that catches most people’s eye. Ever since landing, I had been holding my breath, as I expected her and the other Witnesses to stop being kind and helpful to me once they learned that I was married to a woman.

“I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t do this to you…You’re the one who lost her father,” Yida said as she wiped at her face.

I gestured for her to sit down. “You don’t need to apologize! You lost a very dear… friend just a few days ago and you’re in his house. It makes sense that you’re crying.” We sat side-by-side on the large antique red leather couch my father told Yida he especially wanted me to have. I awkwardly reached out to hold the tall, sobbing woman who was crying so hard she was shaking. She leaned into the crook of my arm. “It’s okay…it’s really okay….” I murmured.

“I just spoke with him! We had a conversation the day before he died and he was telling me about how he was preparing for Convention. I shouldn’t be doing this!” Yida pulled away, wiping her face with a paper towel. “You have so much to do and are going through your own process.” She looked at me as if she expected me to agree with her. She exhaled deeply. “I just can’t believe he’s gone!” Shaking her head, Yida stood up and let me know that she was done cleaning the house and would be heading out soon.

“Oh! The memorial is tomorrow and the Brothers and Sisters were wondering if you would be able to come…. It would mean so much to them if you could be there,” she added.

Inwardly, I panicked because I hadn’t packed an outfit for it.

“How do most Witness women dress for Kingdom Hall?” I asked.

“Oh, very modest…what you wore the other day is fine,” she assured me. I’d worn a multicolored cotton Nigerian tunic with skinny jeans and blue suede sneakers. As a child, I attended church weekly so I knew that that was not appropriate church wear. I had to go buy something. Plus, I had noticed at least ten snazzy suits in my father’s closet and twice that many equally fine neckties; as his daughter, I had to ‘represent’ and look nice.

“Okay… of course I will be there! I owe it to him to show up as his family. It would be tacky if I came all the way down here and didn’t show up for the memorial,” I said with a half-hearted smile.

“Oh good! I’ll tell the Brothers. Do you want me to come pick you up?”

“Yes, please.” Concerned that her kindness would eventually run out, I made a point of showing my gratitude.

Friday evening, when Yida came by, I noticed that she was wearing makeup and a dress. I immediately felt underdressed and plain. Earlier in the day, I’d run out and bought a long black skirt and a pair of black leather booties at a chichi boutique in Downtown Orlando. I had however, brought none of my makeup with me. I nervously ran my hands down the side of my multicolored tunic.

“Hi! You ready?” Yida asked as she stood in the doorway. She seemed reluctant to enter the house. I wondered if someone had told her about me.

“Yes! Just let me get my coat. It’s supposed to get a bit nippy tonight.” I said.

  On the way to the Kingdom Hall, Yida and I chatted. At one point, I cautiously asked, “What was my father like?” I had been searching for clues about his life this whole week and I felt silly asking outright what I thought I should have always known.

“Oh! He was a good man, a kind man. He had his moments when he could be stubborn, but he was a good man!” Yida shared. “And he spoke about you all the time!” she added.

“Really?” My father and I hadn’t spoken since 1993. He never responded to the letter I wrote him in 2014, telling him that my mother died.

“Oh yes! All-the-time!” Yida exclaimed. She looked at me as if to say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ but her facial expression quickly changed when our eyes met. The confusion and hurt I felt must have been all over my face. “One time, I asked him why he didn’t reach out to you and he said, ‘Oh, she’s mad at me.’”

I shook my head. “Seriously?”

“Oh yes! He said, ‘My daughter’s strong…and she’ll never forgive me.’ And I said, ‘Well, Leon, how do you know that if you don’t reach out to her, if you don’t try?’ But he wouldn’t listen. That’s one thing about your father—he was stubborn when he wanted to be! He was a good man, but boy, could he be stubborn!!” With that, Yida chuckled and shook her head.

Even though I wanted to jump out of her car and run far, far away, I made myself keep looking at her. I wanted to go away and cry in peace. The stress of being afraid of the Witnesses’ rejection, of being sleep-deprived (I was working late into the wee hours of the night and waking up early to get things done), and having to be ‘on’ for everyone else had worn me out. I felt connected to Yida in age, but I was afraid her religious beliefs would prevent us from getting to know each other better. However, I wanted to learn more about my father and his relationships with other people.

Learning more about him would allow me to learn more about myself, especially the pieces that don’t reflect my mother’s influence. I listened intently as she described his work as a “Pioneer,” the Witnesses who sit or stand quietly in public spaces and patiently wait to catch the attention of someone interested in hearing the Word of God. They spend seventy hours a month preaching and evangelizing. Since my father and Claudette were retired, they often did it together, but not always. In addition to a few photographs of him pioneering with Claudette, I also found a cluster of photographs of my father pioneering with young Black women. In these photographs, my father wearing either a suit and a hat or dress slacks, a dress shirt with a tie, and a tan bomber jacket over the shirt. He was always beaming and looked comfortable, content, and at ease.

When we arrived at my father’s Kingdom Hall, Yida introduced me to a large, multiracial, and intergenerational group of people by saying, “This is Leon’s daughter!” It was odd hearing that given how distant we were and even odder seeing people’s faces light up with joy as they eagerly shook my hand. I felt as if I had stepped back in time: All the men and boys wore suits and ties or dress slacks with button-up dress shirts, while the women and girls wore skirts or dresses and flats or heels. Everyone I met—young and old—had something to share with me.

“Your father was so loved!”

“Your father was a dear friend!”

“Your father was a joy and an inspiration to me.”

“Your father had a great sense of humor and was such a practical joker!”

“The first time I pioneered, your father made me feel so comfortable!”

It was as if they knew that I was searching for clues, for information about who he was.

Although it was a memorial, the room felt charged with joy and a few drops of grief woven in to temper it. Unlike Black Christian funerals I’ve attended, no one was crying or aggrieved, no one even held a handkerchief in their hand in case a stray tear escaped from their eye. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought it was a regular church service—which felt weird to me. I spoke with an elderly Black couple who had been looking forward to attending the Copenhagen convention with my father. Soon, everyone took their seats. A short, muscular, sharply dressed Filipino man with a military-style flattop named Brother Zeke began by leading the group in a prayer. The pleats on his slacks were so sharp they would have cut bread. He read from the obituary in the program handout. I was listed as his only child and when he read my name aloud, he gestured to me in the front row so that Witnesses could come speak with me later.

“If we turn to John 5:28-29, we know that the dead are in the grave, awaiting resurrection. Brother Leon is not suffering nor is he in any pain, my friends. He is merely asleep, awaiting for the time to be summoned to God. Remember, God wants us to see Brother Leon again, to hear his jokes and his laughter, to see his smile as he spread the good news about Jehovah. We can take great comfort in knowing that because of his work as a Pioneer and our work as Witnesses for Jehovah, we will see Brother Leon again!” Murmurs spread around the room. “Amen!” someone added. As Brother Zeke spoke, the two tweens seated to my left were bent over their smartphones. Thinking they were playing a game or texting one another, I smiled and looked a bit closer; they were looking at the same website. On my right, Yida pulled out a large iPad. She tapped a purple icon and an electronic version of the Bible opened. I leaned over out of sheer curiosity. Yida mistook my interest as a desire to read the Bible with her and moved the iPad so that I could see it better. When I glanced back at the tweens, I saw that they too were following along on the same app.

“I’ve never seen the Bible in electronic form!” I whispered to Yida. I kept my voice low since we were seated directly in front of Brother Zeke.

“Yeah, this is great! It makes it so much easier to carry the Bible and follow along,” she added. For the remainder of the memorial, we sat with our heads tilted towards one another and bent over the iPad, our lips moving in unison, and standing up and down in sync when it came time to sing the lyrics of the sole, closing hymn that were projected onto the walls so that all present could follow along if necessary. Anyone who sat behind us and didn’t know better would have thought we were sisters. I was grateful for this kind gesture to include me, the Heathen Within Their Midst, in the service. It felt good to temporarily belong. Before I could thank Yida, the memorial was over and I was immediately facing two fast-forming, long lines of Witnesses—one to my left, the other to my right—eagerly waiting to speak to me. Yida disappeared and I was left alone to play the role of The Good Daughter of Brother Leon Follins. One of the few things my mother told me about my father was that he was very charming; with ease, I tapped into that part of him within me.

Just as I did at my mother’s memorial, I greeted and thanked everyone. I smiled earnestly, listened intently, and held their hands as they spoke with me. I gave unlimited time and attention to anyone who wanted to tell me how sorry they were for my loss, tell me a ‘funny’ story that epitomized their relationship with my father, and ogle me while remarking how much I look like him. What was most striking to me was that everyone told me they were comforted by the fact that they were going to see my father again at Resurrection, the time when Jehovah revives the dead and reunites them with their loved ones. One regal, Black Jamaican woman in her late 60s said to me:

“I’ll tell your father that you were here at his memorial—that you showed up for him. But I suspect that you’ll become a Witness…just you wait!” She chuckled at my bemused expression, while her husband looked on with a smile. He seemed accustomed to her grandstanding.

“Oh, really?” Her audacity amazed me. I toyed with the idea of bantering with her, asking how she knew that I would become a Witness, but I remembered that I was here to represent, not argue. I was here to learn about my father, not get into religious or philosophical debates about life, death, or life after death. I bit my tongue—hard—and simply smiled back at her.

Over the next twenty minutes, I continued greeting and thanking a colorful parade of Witnesses of all ages—people of South Asian, African, East Asian, Latin American, European descent and multiracial people—for coming to the memorial and showing up for my father. During this time, no one asked how I was faring or feeling, which made me feel like a prop, a stand-in for all that my father represented to them. My thoughts and feelings about my father and his death were irrelevant. No one wanted to hear anything else from me.

Yida whispered in my ear, “The Sisters are preparing the repass in a community center nearby. Are you ready to go?”

Relieved to be done with my Vanna White duties, I looked around the room and nodded. “Sure!” As the two of us headed out of the room, many of the Witnesses present asked if they would see us at the repass. When I assured them that I would, their faces lit up like teeny-boppers.

As we walked to the parking lot, Yida said, “They’re all just so grateful that you’re here! All this time, we thought that Claudette was the only family Leon had; people are overjoyed to know that he had a daughter.” I still didn’t understand why they would be overjoyed by this, but I was too tired to find a diplomatic way to ask. Climbing into Yida’s car, I leaned back and let the seat cradle me. This was the first time I’d been still all day and I was determined to enjoy it for as long as I could. That was when the wave of exhaustion overtook me.  

As we headed to the repass, I had a niggling feeling, a sense that I needed to give Yida something even though she was the one who had had more time with my father. I felt like I needed to acknowledge her role in my father’s life and by now, after all of our conversations, I believed I knew who she was to him—even if it had never been acknowledged. I paused, listening to the rhythm of the tires on the road.

“You were my father’s other daughter,” I said tenderly. “You were there for him in ways that he needed before and after Claudette died. I appreciate that.”

Yida’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at me. “Thank you…Thank you for saying that! It means a lot to me to hear that from you,” Yida replied.

“You were. You cleaned for him, called and checked on him, met with him to make sure he was okay, and nagged him when necessary—these are the things a daughter does.”

“Thank you,” Yida sniffed. Shaking her head, her curls bounced as she quickly wiped at her tears and drove on. “Thank you so much!” She cleared her throat and with a look of determination, leaned forward as if willing the car to go faster.


BIO

Lourdes Dolores Follins has been published in Rigorous, Watermelanin, Medium, and elsewhere. She also edited an award-winning book, Black LGBT Health in the US: The Intersections of Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. When Lourdes isn’t writing, she’s a psychotherapist with QTIPOC and kinky people. Check her out at www.lourdesdfollins.com

     THE WRITING DISORDER ARCHIVE – 2010-2020

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    F=Fiction, P=Poetry, N=Nonfiction, CN=Creative Nonfiction, A=Art, I=Interview

    To View work from 2010-2014, please click here.

    The Writing Disorder • Fall 2021

    FICTION On the Ground, Looking Up
    Tori Bissonette
    Devoir
    Marcia Bradley 
    Concerto de Aranjuez, Transcribed for the Ukulele
    Paul Garson
     
    New Mexico or Arizona
    Ethan Klein
    Tom Turkey
    Justin Meckes
    A Miraculous Takeover
    Austin McLellan
    Sleight of Hand
    Sarah Terez Rosenblum
    Whatever Happened to Mr. Saguaro?
    Carolyn Weisbecker
    POETRY Milton P. Ehrlich Maria Marrocchino Mikayla Schutte
    Travis Stephens Jordyn Taylor Kim Zach
    NONFICTION Hashbrowns and Termites
    Jamie Good
    The Arraghey Wander by Seven
    Ruth Heilgeist 
    Sportin’ Life
    Graeme Hunter 
    How to Break and Mend Your Mother’s Heart
    JoAnne E. Lehman
    ARTWORK The Art of Amy Earles    
    INTERVIEW Freak Out! My Life
    with Frank Zappa:
    Pauline Butcher Bird 

    The Writing Disorder • Summer 2021

    FICTION Annual Rites
    L. Shapley Bassen
    An Artist’s Whore
    Grace Ford 
    The Two Missing Words
    David Henson
     
    The Langauge of Flowers
    Jennifer Lorene Ritenoir
    Hollywood, Guido Orlando, The Pope and The Mother
    M.F. McAuliffe
    Mohua
    Maitreyee
    Matters That Concern Me
    Walter Weinschenk
    POETRY Carolyn Adams Torri Hammonds James Croal Jackson
    J.R. Solonche Elizabeth Train-Brown Matt Zachary
    NONFICTION In the Houses of Others
    Anita Kestin
    Guide to the Ruins
    Eve Müller 
    Review: Dust Bowl Venus
    Linda Scheller 
    Marked
    Deborah A. Lott
    INTERVIEW Pauline Butcher Bird
    Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa 
       
    ARTWORK The Art of Ryan Heshka


    The Writing Disorder – Spring 2021

    The Writing Disorder • Fall 2020

    FICTION
    The Marginalia Game – Adam Anders
    Great Spirits – Arun A.K.
    Cabbage Night – T.B. Grennan
    The Sins of Father Rickman – Catherine J. Link
    The Snow Queen – Jennifer R. Lorene
    The Woman Left Behind is Still Behind Him – Shea McCollum
    Death Rattle – Kristen Roedel
    Savior – Katy Van Sant
    POETRY
    Januário Esteves
    Diana Ha
    Ashley Inguanta
    F.X. James
    Steven M. Smith
    Tim Suermondt
    James Thurgood
    NONFICTION
    The Other Daughter – Lourdes Dolores Follins
    Wonderful Vacation – J L Higgs
    Amen Sure Thing – Mindela Ruby
    California Fugue – Teresa Yang
    INTERVIEW
    Philip Cioffari by Bill Wolak
    ARTWORK
    Liz Brizzi

    The Writing Disorder • Summer 2020

    FICTION A Damsel in Bedlam
    Kat Devitt
    Three New Names
    Masie Hollingsworth
    The Woman in the Window
    Flora Jardine
     
    The Affair of the Bird
    Harli James
    Fishbowl Frenzy
    Susie Potter
    Pretty Boy
    Nina Shevzov-Zebrun
    The New Reality
    Tom Whalen
    The Poet Ray Brown
    John Yohe
    POETRY Daniel Aristi Christopher Barnes Donna Dallas
    Téa Nicolae Keko Prijatelj Abasiama Udom
    NONFICTION A Survival Guide to
    Christian College

    Rachel Belth
    Save Me and I
    Will Be Saved

    Riley Winchester
    Rejuvenation in
    Fragments

    Jennifer Worrell
    INTERVIEW Judith Skillman
    by Janée J. Baugher
       
     
    ARTWORK Carl Lozada

    The Writing Disorder • Spring 2020

    FICTION
    Words May Set You Free – Marco Etheridge
    Five Questions for Thomas Pynchon – Nathaniel Heely
    Separated by Glass – Kailyn Kausen
    The Walker – Martin Keaveney
    The UMAMI Museum Field Trip – Cecilia Kennedy
    Reflections – Regan Kilkenny
    Smitten to Spitten – Madeline McEwen
    The New Girl in Our Office – Deepti Nalavade Mahule
    Assumptions – James Mulhern

    POETRY
    Michele Alice
    Terry Brinkman
    Abigail George
    Lance Lee
    Charles J. March III
    Juanita Rey

    NONFICTION
    Fasting – Cliff Morton
    Smoke – Dennis Vannatta

    INTERVIEW
    Chryssa Nikolakis          

    ARTWORK
    Jessica Brilli

    The Writing Disorder • Winter 2019-2020

    FICTION 20/20
    A.L. Bishop
    The Art Collective
    Robert Boucheron
    A Better Parent
    Alison Gadsby
     
    Tito’s Descent
    Marylee MacDonald
    I as the being
    Pawel Markiewicz
    Natural Burial
    J.L. Moultrie
    Complicit
    Jane Snyder
    Tony Van Witsen
    Dewey Defeats Truman
    POETRY Natasha Deonarain Kevin R. Farrell, Jr. J.A. Staisey
    John Wiley Mark Young
    NONFICTION Sozzled
    Hannah Green
    Painters and Poets
    John C. Krieg
    Temporary Cat Lady
    Caitlin Sellnow
    Head of the Ulna
    Tessa Vroom
       
    COMIC ART Karl Stephan
    Mary Boys

    The Writing Disorder • Fall 2019

    FICTION Gray Yogurt
    Cecilia Kennedy
    My GWOT, Annotated
    Paul D. Mooney
    The Garden
    Leslie Boudreaux Tidwell
     
    A Semblance
    Mateusz Tobola
    Hung from a Mitzvah Cross
    Mark Tulin
    Where the Street Learns Its Curve
    Donna D. Vitucci
    POETRY Dilantha Gunawardana Casey Killingsworth George Cassidy Payne
    Steven Ratiner Jerry Tyler John Zedolik
    NONFICTION I’m No More Rabid Than Usual
    Catherine Moscatt
    My Most Constant Lover
    Miriam Edelson
     
    ARTWORK Leigh Anita
    Photography
       
    INTERVIEW Mallory O’Meara
    Author

    Summer 2019 Issue

    FICTION
    A Clean Break – Vince Barry
    Georgey-Dear – Tetman Callis
    Offing Buck – Victoria Forester
    Sore Throat – Carolyn Geduld
    The Two Potters – Norbert Kovacs
    Everyone Smile – Douglas Ogurek
    Recovery – Paul Rosenblatt
    Thick Skin, Locked Jaw, Yes Ma’am – Rina Sclove

    POETRY
    Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
    John Califano
    R.T. Castleberry
    Laurinda Lind
    Nanette Rayman
    Roger Singer

    NONFICTION
    Historic(!) Rugby – Tim Miller
    Cochina de Mierda – Jennifer Jordán Schaller

    ARTWORK
    Katarina Zuder – Artwork

    INTERVIEW
    Author, Mallory O’Meara

    Spring 2019 Issue

    FICTION
    The River Kent – Annie Blake
    As I Lay Scratching – AN Block
    Little Nell Answers the Bell – James R. Kincaid
    Not a Seamless Lunch – Anna Linetskaya
    Day Hike – Priscilla Mainardi
    Herman Loves Brooke – Anthony J. Mohr
    Gail – Lily Tierney

    POETRY
    Holly Day
    Chris Fox
    Mary Kasimor
    Jared Pearce
    Marvin Rosel
    Zach Trebino
    Guinotte Wise

    NONFICTION
    Listening to the Voice – Eve Dobbins
    Who is Jackie Brown? – Rachel Scott

    ARTWORK
    Natalie Shau – Illustration/Photography

    Winter 2018-19 Issue

    FICTION
    The Ultra Injustice – Scott Bassis
    Surprise – William Cass
    Suit Yourself – Lindsey Godfrey Eccles
    José María Writes a Story – Annette Freeman
    Snit’s Wife – Phil Gallos
    Meetings – Margaret Karmazin
    Nothing Comes Back – Susan Lloy
    The Harmacy – Stephanie Mataya

    POETRY
    Adrian Cretu
    E.G. Ted Davis
    M.A. Istvan, Jr.
    A.C. O’Dell
    Lauren Sartor
    Alex Schmidt
    J.A. Staisey
    Garrison Alecsaunder

    NONFICTION
    In the Eye – Deborah Morris
    How to Change Your Name – Jayelle Seeley
    Book Review: The Night Ocean

    ARTWORK
    Anna Angrick Illustration

    INTERVIEW
    Kathryn Harrison

    Fall 2018 Issue

    FICTION
    Linda Boroff – Let That Be a Lesson
    Laura Fletcher – I Know
    Zachary Ginsburg – Disposal
    John Mandelberg – The Plagiarist
    Evelyn Somers – Mr. Whiskey, the Greatest of All
    Kobina Wright – Invitations

    POETRY
    Judy Shepps Battle
    Mary Bone
    Zoë Christopher
    Jim Farfaglia
    DS Maolalai
    Amber Wilkinson

    NONFICTION
    Eimile Bowden – Female, Age Twenty
    Jeffrey James Higgins – An Uncommon Hero
    Ana Vidosavljevic – A Turkish Coffee Reader

    ARTWORK
    Leigh Anita – Illustration

    Spring 2018 Issue

    FICTION
    Shamar English – KETCHUP SANDWICH
    Joe Fortunato – A MARVELOUS PEACE
    Rosemary Harp – IN THE KELP FOREST
    Maggie Herlocker – THE CAROUSEL
    Robert Klose – THE TABLE
    Michael McCormick – PINK LEMONADE
    Megan Parker – THE SWAMP WITCH
    Trish Perrault – THE BRIDGE

    POETRY
    Brad Garber
    Ricky Garni
    Susan Richardson
    Deborah Saltman
    Kimberly White

    NONFICTION
    Emmie Barron – GHOST GIRL
    Linda Leigh – UP ABOVE and the DOWN BELOW
    Rick White – STITCHES

    ARTWORK
    Stephanie Garber
    Blythe Smith

    SKID ROW ZINE
    Introduction by Ivy Pochoda

    The Writing Disorder • Winter 2017-18

    FICTION Jessica Bonder
    HAPPY HOME
    Alexander Carver
    THE WINE SNIFFER
    J L Higgs
    FINDING JESUS
     
    Patrick Legay
    SOUNDS OF THE ALLEYWAY
    Rae Monroe
    FREE AS THE OCEAN
    Patrick Moser
    THE MINISTRY OF BROOMS
    Richard Thomas
    HOW NOT TO COME UNDONE
     
    POETRY Ruth Bavetta Joe Gianotti Sergio A. Ortiz
    Garth Pavell Cliff Saunders Sara Truuvert
    NONFICTION Brett Horton
    Dogs of Katmandu
    Anika Gupta
    An Intercourse with Ghosts
    Pam Munter
    Sparky
     
    ARTWORK MISS FLUFF ANNELISA LEINBACH  

    The Writing Disorder • Spring 2017

    FICTION

    Mark Budman
    SUPER
    JOHN

    Cameron
    THE PINNACLE OF FREE-WHEELING
    PARTICLES

    Brian Conlon
    SAFE HAVEN: A ROMANTIC COMEDY IN ELEVEN UNEQUAL PARTS
     
    Joshua Dull
    THE ART OF LETTING GO
    Beth Goldner
    FLINT AND SHANNON
    Anthony Ilacqua
    THE END OF IDYLLIC DAYS

    Anna Keeler
    HALLUCINOGENIC GIRLFRIEND

    Leah Holbrook Sackett
    MAN IN BLACK
    Katie Strine
    MEDITATE AND WAIT
    POETRY Gayane M. Haroutyunyan
    TS Hidalgo
    Kasandra Larsen
    E.M. Schorb
    Tara Isabel Zambrano
     J4
    NONFICTION Rene Diedrich
    A VALENTINE FOR THE WIDOW OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
    Barbara J. Campbell
    I WAS THE DEAN OF FUTURES STUDIES
    Anthony J. Mohr
    WE’VE GOT
    SWEATERS

     
    ARTWORK Sequoia Emmanuelle
    PHOTOGRAPHY

    J4
    CARD POEMS

       

    The Writing Disorder • Winter 2016-17

    FICTION

    Christopher Branson
    The Astronaut

    Emma Fuhs
    Jaguar Smiles
    Joe Giordano
    Car Crash
    Shalen Lowell
    Revolutions and Revelations
    Mona Leigh Rose
    The Crossing
    Noelle Schrock
    Someone Has to Heckle the Rhinos

    Katie Schwartz
    Six

    POETRY Natalie Crick Joseph Farley Dustin Lowman
    Tamer Mostafa Melissa Watt
    NONFICTION Edd Jennings
    Lost Time
    Mira Martin-Parker
    I’m Not Afraid Anymore
    Book Review
    Apocalypse All the Time
    Lynne Blumberg
    Learning From My Past
    ARTWORK Cameron Bliss
    Paintings

    Michelle Vella
    Paintings

    The Strand
    Photography

    The Writing Disorder • Fall 2016

    FICTION

    Jacqueline Berkman
    Slush

    J. L. Higgs
    Lee’s Funeral,
    Emmy’s Wedding

    Martin Keaveney
    Flash Fiction
     
    M. F. McAuliffe
    Warner
    Jac Smith
    Mother
    Jennifer Vanderheyeden
    Cogito(e)

    Tessa Yang
    The Spoiled Child

    Victoria-Elizabeth Panks
    Pikkake Peaks
     
    POETRY Christina Bavone Sarah Blumrich Seth King
    Maria Marrocchino Judy Roitman Rasool Yoonan
    NONFICTION Rachel Croskrey
    On Why I’m Not
    a Hypochondriac
    K. B. Dixon
    Lucida and Me
    Kym Cunningham
    Making Space
    ARTWORK Jenny Mörtsell
    Illustrations

    Blythe Smith
    Paintings

       

    The Writing Disorder • Summer 2016

    FICTION

    Robert Boucheron
    Very Good English

    Mitchell Grabois
    Art | Climate Change
    Stephanie Renae Johnson
    Straw
    Paisley Kauffmann
    The Adults

    Tom Miller
    Furniture Store

    Bethany Pope
    A Pretty Smile
    Claire Tollefsrud
    Obligatory Silence
    T.E. Winningham
    i, Clouded
    POETRY Lana Bella Janet Buck D.G. Geis Ashley Inguanta
    Oliver Timken Perrin Brad Rose Lucas Shepherd
    NONFICTION Shay Siegel
    Don’t Quiet Down Please
    Janet Damaske
    Bloodline
    Jennifer Elizabeth Johnson
    Chartwell Manor
    Ruby Cowling
    Vertigo book review
    ARTWORK Angelo Deleon
    Paintings

    Letisia Cruz
    Artwork

    John Tavares
    Photography

    Brad Gottschalk
    Comic Art

    INTERVIEW Jon Wilkman

    The Writing Disorder • Spring 2016

    FICTION

    Patrick Burr
    Pushing Michaelmas

    Larry Fronk
    Bad Soldiers
    Taylor García
    Monica in Georgetown
    Jill Jepson
    Drowning Time

    Bryce Johle
    Indiana

    Matt McGowan
    The Bridge
    P.M. Neist
    The Oracle
    Janice Rodriguez
    Ground Control
    Billy Sauls
    Words in Red
    POETRY Abigail George adam l. Michael Penny
    Belinda Subraman John Sweet
    NONFICTION Stephanie Dickinson
    Maximum Compound
    Paul Garson
    The Y Factor
    Kristian Hoffman
    Bowie Diary
    ARTWORK Giada Cattaneo
    Harumi Hironaka
    WAXenVINE

    THE WRITING DISORDER • WINTER 2015-16 ISSUE

    FICTION

    Eric Brittingham
    Gin Fizz

    Tera Joy Cole
    Coyotes Don’t Litter
    Thomas Elson
    Midnight Mass
    Vincent Mannings
    Not Always Easy

    Jennifer Porter
    Army Mom

    Jude Roy
    Last of the Cowboys
    Mary Taugher
    Crow on the Cradle
    Chris Vanjonack
    After You
    POETRY Marcella Benton Sean Howard Kjell Nykvist
    Josey Parker Elizabeth Perdomo Domenic James Scopa
    NONFICTION Rebecca Brill
    On Texting a Guy…
    Michael Filas
    Galileo’s Wake
    Denis Mulroony
    Sucking Air
    John Spencer Walters
    On Casket Readinesss
    Kyle Mustain
    Opposite of Suicide II
    ARTWORK Claudia Pomowski Howard Skrill Alina Zamanova
    INTERVIEW Alan Hess
    Writing Architecture
    FALL 2015 ISSUE Robert Cesaretti (F) Tad Bartlett (N) Michael Brownstein (P) Nuta Istrate Gangan (P)
    Jacqueline Bridges (F) Tara Vanflower (N) Tommy Dean (F) Daniele Serra (A) Dan Darling (F)
    René Ostberg (P) James Lipnickas (A) Karen Corinne Herceg (P) Pat Hart (F) Franklin Klavon (F)
    Bruce McRae (P) Sara Regezi (F) Alan Reese (P) Sarah Parris (N) Liz Gilmore Williams (N)
    Susan Lloy (F) Charles Lowe (F) Allen Forrest (A) Paul Garson (N) Lauren Vargas (P)
     
    . . . .
    . . . . .
    SUMMER 2015 ISSUE Richard Thomas (F) Dimitris Lyacos (N) Robin Wyatt Dunn (P) Emily Strauss (P)
    Daniel Mueller (F) Sarah Sarai (N) Virginia Luck (F) Daniele Serra (A) Joseph De Quattro (F)
    René Ostberg (P) James Lipnickas (A) Hannah Frishberg (P) Tim Boiteau (F) Michael Davis (F)
    Charles Brice (P) Ron Yates (F) Jon Riccio (P) L.D. Zane (N) Audrey Iredale (N)
    Dawn-Michelle Baude (F) David Haight (F) Allen Forrest (A) Paul Garson (N)
     
    . . . .
    . . . . .
    SPRING 2015 ISSUE
    Mary van Balgooy (N) Evelyn Levine (F) Lauren Martino (A) John Tavares (F) Marina Carreira (P)
    Carmen Firan (F) Natalia Jheté (A) Mitchell Garbois (F) Anna Boorstin (F) A.A. Weiss (F)
    Linda Tillman (A) Kelly Thompson (P) Sandra Rokoff-Lizut (P) Laura Wang (N) Susan Petersen Avitzour (N)
    Jon Fried (F) Claudia Putnam (P) J Hudson (F) Paul Garson (N) Kent Kosack (P)
    Gerard Sarnat (P) John Lowther (P) Walter Thompson (F) Veronica O’Halloran (F) James Gallant (F)
    . . . .
    . . . . .
    WINTER 2014-15 ISSUE
    Kyle R. Mustain (CN) Lou Gaglia (F) Ninon Schubert (F) Robert O’Rourke (F) Tim Roberts (P)
    Samantha Eliot Stier (F) Hudson Marquez (A) Norman Waksler (F) Suzanne Ushie (F) Clarissa Nemeth (F)
    Sarah Katharina Kayß (A) Kevin McCoy (P) Colin Dodds (P) Eddie Argauer (N)
    John Oliver Hodges (F) John McKernan (P) Larena Nawrocki (CN) Paul Garson (CN)
    Ho Cheung (Peter) Lee (P) Tamer Mostafa (P) Jacqueline Berkman (F) Charlie Brown (F)
    .FJa . . . .
    . . . . .
    FALL 2014 ISSUE Suzanne Hyman (F) Christopher Suda (P) Hilda Daniel(A)
    Paula Panich (F) JJ Anselmi (N) Jessie Aufiery (F) Anna Isaacson (F) Scott Stambach (F)
    David Hicks (F) Cheryl Diane Kidder (F) Bruno Barbosa (F) Amita Murray (F) Joshua Sidley (F)
    John Ronan (P) Robert Lavett Smith (P) Daniel Carbone (P) Kim Suttell (P) R.A. Allen (P)
    Dixon Hearne (I) Aurora Brackett (F) Richard Hartshorn (I) Eric Vasallo(I) Ellen Mulholland (F)
    Melissa Palmer (N) Zamar (N) Allen Forrest (A) David Armand (I)
    .F . . . .
    . . . . .
    SUMMER 2014 ISSUE Pamela Langley (F) Adefisayo Adeyeye (P) Margo Herr (A)
    David J Ballenger (F) Ruth Gila Berger (N) RV Branham (F) Beth Castrodale (F) Ruth Deming (F)
    Melissa Grunow (N) Cassie Kellogg (F) Sarah Kruel (F) Joshua Michael Johnson (F) Jake Teeny (F)
    Darren Demaree (P) Persephone Abbott (P) Daniel Fitzgerald (P) Simon Perchik (P) Joseph Ferguson (P)
    Shelby Stephenson (P) Sharon Rothenfluch Cooper (P) David Rose (I) Jacob Reecher (N) Chris Casey (N)
    Simon Larbalestier (I) Keicha Kempsey (N) Paul Garson (N) Joel Nakamura (A) Melinda Giordano (A)
    .F . . . .
    . . . . .

    ALL WORK LISTED BELOW CAN BE VIEWED HERE.

    OUR SPRING 2014 ISSUE CAN BE VIEWED HERE.

     

    To View work from 2010-2014, please click here.

    SPRING 2014

    FICTION
    Jacqueline Friedland – Just Allowance
    John Bach – Letter No. 8 — Gunslinger in the Church
    Sayuri Yamada – Dancers
    Leonard Kress – Evooshkoo
    John Richmond – The Hill
    Bobby Fischer – Three Wolves
    David Starnes – Sagging Crown
    Erin Lebacqz – Sustenance
    David S. Atkinson – Turndown Service
    Emily Topper – Something Better

    POETRY
    RAY GONZALEZ
    RISA DENENBERG
    CLYDE KESSLER
    PAUL HOSTOVSKY
    DOUG DRAIME

    INTERVIEW
    Sam Rosenthal, Author and Musician

    NONFICTION
    The Treatment by Xijing “Patricia” Sun
    God’s Junkyard by Margaret Ackerman
    Ghosts by Christine Barcellona

    BOOK REVIEWs
    J.C. Elkin’s World Class by Juliana Woodhead
    Richard Powers’ Orfeo by Sarah Sarai

    ARTWORK
    The Artist’s Window: The Work of Katerina R. Kovatcheva
    The Sundial Bridge: The Photography of Keith Moul
    The Life of an Artist: The Work of W. Jack Savage

    WINTER 2013-14

    FICTION
    Michael Andreoni
    Sean Croft
    April Dávila
    Gale Deitch
    Ceri Eagling
    Brittany Lynn Goss
    Mark Hollock
    Mercedes Lucero
    Gary Noland
    Danny Olea
    Melissa Palmer
    David Vardeman
    Shanna Yetman

    POETRY
    Angela Hibbs
    Jeffrey Lee Owens
    Patty Seyburn
    Gray Tolhurst
    Joseph Trombatore

    NONFICTION
    Stephanie Flood
    Jessica Caudill
    Elizabeth Bales Frank
    J.D. Lynn
    Elen Rochlin

    ART
    Kayla Roseclere & Ashley Inguanta
    Alexndra Straton
    Laura Watson

    INTERVIEW
    Chang-rae Lee

    REVIEW
    David Letzler on Thomas Pynchon

    FALL 2013

    FICTION
    Brian Conlon
    Catherine Nicholas
    Kelly Jacobson
    Adeline Hauber
    R.V. Branham
    C.D. Mitchell
    Darlene Campos
    Lynn Stansbury
    Molly Gillcrist
    John Tavares

    POETRY
    B.Z. Niditch
    Eleni Erikson
    Simon Perchik
    Sarah Sarai
    Aunia Kahn

    NONFICTION
    Pamela Langley
    J.J. Anselmi
    Elizabeth Dobbin

    ART
    Mable Song
    Lisa Wilde
    Vineet Radhakrishnan
    Aunia Kahn
    Christine Robakidze

    INTERVIEWS
    Ivy Pochoda
    Martin Aston

    SUMMER 2013

    FICTION
    Sophie Monatte
    Emma Bohmann
    G.D. McFetridge
    Tana Young
    Janae Green
    Lydia Lambrou
    Linda Bilodeau
    Nick Brennan
    Keith Laufenberg
    Ruby Cowling
    Rami Ungar

    POETRY
    Niall Rasputin
    Joanna Valente
    R.T. Castleberry
    Kristen Hoggatt
    Sam Alper
    Jennifer Firestone

    NONFICTION
    Krista Carlson
    Brenda Rankin
    Jacqueline Doyle
    Dorene O’Brien
    C.A. Stamidis

    ART
    Michael Vincent Manalo
    Jasmine Worth
    Van Saro
    Ira Joel Haber

    INTERVIEWS
    Steph Cha

    SPRING 2013

    FICTION
    Kate LaDew
    Robert Scott
    Samuel Snoek-Brown
    Ruby Cowling
    Valerie Lewis
    Scott Stambach
    Charles West
    Alexandra Gilwit
    Stefanie Trout
    James Lewelling

    POETRY
    Mary Bast
    Lisa J. Cihlar
    Darren Demaree
    Chris Crittenden
    Pramila Venkateswaran
    Desmond Kon
    Jenny Morse

    NONFICTION
    Rachael Goetzke
    Christine Ritenis
    R.R. Gwaltney
    Laura Callanan

    ART
    Cecile Poulain
    Janet Culbertson
    Tom Block
    Chuck Hodi

    INTERVIEWS
    Manuel Gonzales
    Isis Aquarian
    Arthur Tulee

    WINTER 2012-2013

    FICTION
    Radha Bharadwaj
    Barrie Walsh
    Emil DeAndreis
    Brett Burba
    Maui Holcomb
    David S. Atkinson
    Shannon McMahon
    Frances O’Brien
    Shae Krispinsky

    POETRY
    Judith Taylor
    Dorothy Chan
    A.J. Huffman
    Amy Sprague
    H. Alexander Shafer
    Amit Parmessur
    Rinzu Rajan
    Robert P. Hansen

    NONFICTION
    David B. Comfort
    Chase Wilkinson

    ART
    Joe Biel
    Fletcher Crossman
    Natasha Stanton
    Peter Colquhoun

    INTERVIEWS
    Alexandra Styron
    Steven Weissman

    FALL 2012

    FICTION
    Caroline Rozell
    Lorraine Comanor
    Marc Simon
    Len Joy
    Priscilla Mainardi
    Harvey Spurlock
    Max Sheridan
    Katja Zurcher
    Linda Nordquist
    Steven Miller

    POETRY
    Jasmine Smith
    Lowell Jaeger
    Jose Flores
    Corey Mingura
    Katherine MacCue
    Calvero

    NONFICTION
    Colleen Corcoran
    Chelsey Clammor
    Alia Volz

    ART
    Eric Rodriguez
    Loren Kantor
    Keith Moul
    Eric Rodriguez

    INTERVIEWS
    Amelia Gray
    Ruth Clampett

    SUMMER 2012

    FICTION
    Brian S. Hart
    Jessica Caudill
    Amanda McTigue
    Leslie Johnson
    Brandon Bell
    Marija Stajic
    Rachel Bentley
    Rebecca Wright
    Orlin Oroschakoff

    POETRY
    Gretchen Mattox
    Mike Donaldson
    Lucie Winborne
    David Russomano
    Jess Minkert

    NONFICTION
    J.J. Anselmi
    Melanie Henderson
    S.M.B.
    Annette Renee

    ART
    Judith Taylor
    Yi Gao
    Dallas Paterson
    Elias Duchowny

    INTERVIEW
    David Cowart, Part II

    SPRING 2012

    FICTION
    Eliezra Schaffzin
    Melissa Palmer
    Pamela Dreizen
    Claire Noonan
    Ben Orlando
    Joe Kilgore
    Francis Chung
    Kevin Ridgeway
    Karoline Barrett
    G.L. Williams

    POETRY
    Gale Acuff
    Susan King
    Ivy Page
    Sonali Gurpur
    Holly Day

    NONFICTION
    Henry F. Tonn
    Lily Murphy

    ART
    Leonard Kogan
    Orlin Oroschakoff
    Chad Kaplan

    INTERVIEW
    David Cowart, Part I

    WINTER 2011-2012

    FICTION
    Greg November
    Ashley Inguanta
    Brooke Kwikkel
    Tegan Webb
    Ruth Webb
    Edward Wells
    Tantra Bensko
    Keith Laufenberg
    Robert Sachs

    POETRY
    Geordie de Boer
    Amanda Hempel
    Lisa Sisler
    Garth Pavell

    NONFICTION
    Shay Belisle
    Emily-Jane Hills Orford

    ART
    Soey Milk
    Ashley Inguanta
    Brett Stout

    INTERVIEW
    Howard Junker
    Emily Kiernan

    FALL 2011

    FICTION
    Patrick T. Henry
    Matt Thomas
    Tracy Auerbach
    Marko Fong
    A. Lazakis
    Gina Goldblatt
    M.E. McMullen
    Sarah Sarai

    POETRY
    Aaron Poller
    Purdey Kreiden
    C. Derick Varn

    NONFICTION
    William Henderson
    Henry F. Tonn

    ART
    Karl Wills
    Eleanor Bennett
    Carl Lozada

    INTERVIEW
    TINA MAY HALL

    SUMMER 2011

    FICTION
    Avi Wrobel
    Taryn Hook
    San Rafi
    Jennifer Fenn
    Robert J. Miller
    Susan Dale
    John Staley
    William J. Fedigan
    Alice Charles

    POETRY
    Kathryn Zurlo
    Thompson Boling
    Felino Soriano

    NONFICTION
    G.S. Payne
    William Boyle

    ART
    Mari Inukai
    Nicole Bruckman
    Luke Ritta

    INTERVIEW
    Francesca Lia Block
    Rudy Ratzinger

    SPRING 2011

    FICTION
    Liam Connolly
    Katie Lattari
    Karen Wodke
    Sudha Balagopal
    Eliza Snelling
    Rebecca Shepard
    Ron Koppelberger

    POETRY
    Mark DeCarteret
    Margaux Griffith
    Erica Ostergaard
    Sara Swanson

    NONFICTION
    Shorsha Sullivan
    Chelsea Wolfe
    Michael Burns
    Yu-Han Chao

    ART
    Heather Watts
    John Oliver Hodges
    Luke Ritta

    INTERVIEW
    Musician, Chelsea Wolfe

    WINTER 2010

    FICTION
    Joe Kilgore
    John Oliver Hodges
    Marianne Villanueva
    Marianne Villanueva
    Jesse Aufiery
    Michael Burns
    Brett Biebel
    Tetman Callis

    POETRY
    Lauren Nicole Nixon
    Michael Fessler
    David McLean
    Jill Wright

    NONFICTION
    MIchael Campino
    Deanna Ong
    Sy Rosen
    Weisberg & Gousios

    ART
    Michael Knight
    Joseph Bowman
    Coloring Book Art

    INTERVIEW
    Author, Davis Schneiderman

    FALL 2010

    FICTION
    John Bruce
    Jim Meirose
    Sarah Smith
    Elizabeth Dunphey
    Gregg Williard
    Elizabeth Blandon

    POETRY
    Lana Rakhman
    Samantha Zimbler
    Ricky Garni
    Robert HIll Long

    NONFICTION
    MIchael Campino
    Leigh Gaston
    Sy Rosen
    Karen Joyce Williams

    ART
    Ela Boyd
    JT Steiny
    MIchael Jonathan
    Ernest Williamson

    INTERVIEW
    The Beautiful World of Pieter Nooten

    SUMMER 2010

    FICTION
    Emily Kiernan
    Joan Connor
    Stephen Meyer
    Desmond Kon
    Joel Cox

    POETRY
    Judith Taylor
    Gretchen Mattox
    Ashley Shivar
    Jesse DeLong

    NONFICTION
    Stuart Dybek
    Deborah Bradford
    Joseph Smith

    ART
    Osker Jimenez
    Steve Bartlett
    Richard Lange
    C.W. Moss

    REVIEW
    The Lava Lady by Joanne Levine & Paul Monroe

    SPRING 2010

    FICTION
    Miranda McLeod
    Heather Genovese
    DC Curtis & Bones Kendall

    POETRY
    Michael Moeller
    Steve Abee
    Aimee Brooks

    NONFICTION
    Paul Garson
    Teddie-Joy Remhild

    ART
    Alexia Pilat
    Carl Lozada
    Carly Mizzou

    REVIEW
    Burton Pressboard

      FALL 2021
      NONFICTION
      Hashbrowns and Termites
      Jamie Good
      The Arraghey Wander by Seven
      Ruth Heilgeist 
      Sportin’ Life
      Graeme Hunter 
      How to Break and Mend Your Mother’s Heart
      JoAnne E. Lehman
      SUMMER 2021
      NONFICTION
      In the Houses of Others
      Anita Kestin
      Guide to the Ruins
      Eve Müller 
      Review: Dust Bowl Venus
      Linda Scheller 
      Marked
      Deborah A. Lott

      Winter 2020/21 Nonfiction

      Birthday Surprise, 2003
      Lourdes Dolores Follins

      The Blizzard of ’47
      Anita Gorman 

      Tricky Friend
      Natthinee Knot-asa Jones & Hardy Jones 

      Let He Who Is Without Sin Hurl The First Haggis
      James W. Morris 

      Fall 2020 Nonfiction

      The Other Daughter – Lourdes Dolores Follins

      Wonderful Vacation – J L Higgs 

      Amen Sure Thing – Mindela Ruby

      California Fugue – Teresa Yang

      INTERVIEW: Philip Cioffari by Bill Wolak

      Summer 2020 Nonfiction

      A Survival Guide to
      Christian College

      Rachel Belth
      Save Me and I
      Will Be Saved

      Riley Winchester
      Rejuvenation in
      Fragments

      Jennifer Worrell

      Spring Nonfiction 2020

      This talented group present their new work.

      Fasting – Cliff Morton
      Smoke – Dennis Vannatta

      Interview with Chryssa Nikolakis by Bill Wolak

      Summer Nonfiction 2019

      This talented group present their new work.

      Historic(!) Rugby – Tim Miller

      Cochina de Mierda – Jennifer Jordán Schaller

      INTERVIEW with Author, Mallory O’Meara

      Spring Nonfiction 2019

      These talented writers present their new work.

      Listening to the Voice – Eve Dobbins

      Who is Jackie Brown? – Rachel Scott

      INTERVIEW with Author, Kathryn Harrison

      Winter Nonfiction 2018-19

      Four talented writers with new work.

      INTERVIEW with Author, Kathryn Harrison

      In the Eye – Deborah Morris

      How to Change Your Name – Jayelle Seeley

      BOOK REVIEW: The Night Ocean

      Fall Nonfiction 2018

      Three talented writers presenting brand new work.

      Eimile Bowden – Female, Age Twenty

      Jeffrey James Higgins – An Uncommon Hero

      Ana Vidosavljevic – A Turkish Coffee Reader

      Summer – Nonfiction 2o18

      Brand new work from three very talented writers.

      How Author Eddy L. Harris Changed My Life by Patrick Dobson

      BookStop by Susan Lloy

      Perspectives by Deanna Mobley

      Spring – Nonfiction 2o18

      Great new work from two very talented writers.

      GHOST GIRL by Emmie Barron

      UP ABOVE and the DOWN BELOW by Linda Leigh

      STITCHES by Rick White

      Winter – Nonfiction 2o17-18

      Great new work from two very talented writers.

      DOGS OF KATMANDU by Brett Horton

      AN INTERCOURSE WITH GHOSTS by Anika Gupta

      SPARKY by Pam Munter

      Fall – Nonfiction 2o17

      Great new work from two very talented writers.

      LITTLE TRAFFIC LIGHT MEN by Joan Frank

      MY GREEN CARD by Maria Lopez

      Summer – Nonfiction 2o17

      A group of talented writers. Please read each and every piece published.

      BREAKING THE SILENCE by Damilola Olaniyi

      The DON NOWELL Story by Paul Garson

      Spring – Creative Nonfiction 2017

      A group of talented writers. Please read each and every piece published.

      A VALENTINE FOR THE WIDOW OF ROCK AND ROLL by Rene Diedrich

      I WAS THE DEAN OF FUTURES STUDIES by Barbara J. Campbell

      WE’VE GOT SWEATERS by Anthony J. Mohr

      Winter – Nonfiction 2016-17

      A talented group writers. Please read each and every one published here.

      LOST TIME by Edd Jennings

      I’M NOT AFRAID ANYMORE by Mira Martin-Parker

      BOOK REVIEW: Apocalypse All the Time by David Atkinson – Review by Ryan Werner

      LEARNING FROM MY PAST by Lynne Blumberg

      Fall – Nonfiction 2016

      A talented group of smart, thought-provoking, and humorous writers.
      Please read each and every one published here.

      LUCIDA and ME – K. B. Dixon

      ON WHY I’M NOT A HYPOCHONDRIAC – Rachel Croskrey

      MAKING SPACE – Kym Cunningham

      Summer – Nonfiction 2016

      A great group of intelligent, thoughtful, and humorous pieces.
      Please read each and every piece published here.

      Don’t Quiet Down Please – Shay Siegel

      Bloodline – Janet Damaske

      Chartwell Manor – Jennifer Elizabeth Johnson

      Vertigo book review – Ruby Cowling

      Spring – Nonfiction 2016

      A great new group present you with some interesting, challenging, and humorous ideas.
      Please make sure you read each and every piece presented here.

      Maximum Compound – Stephanie Dickinson

      The Y Factor: “Deep Nasal Passage” Reveals Pre-Launch Secrets of The X-Files – Paul Garson

      Kristian Hoffman – Bowie Diaries

      Winter – Nonfiction 2015-16

      An excellent group of writers with some great new work.
      Please read each and every piece published here.

      Interview with Writer and Architect, Alan Hess

      Michael Filas – Galileo’s Wake

      Denis Mulroony – Sucking Air: Above-Ground Pool Chronicles

      Kyle Mustain – The Opposite of Suicide II

      John Spencer Walters – The Importance of Casket Readiness

      Fall – Nonfiction 2015

      We hope you’re ready for some excellent new work from this gifted group of writers.
      Make sure you come back and read each and every one.

      Interview with Writer and Musician, Tara Vanflower

      Tad Bartlett – Head Space

      Sarah Parris – NaNoWriMo

      Liz Gilmore Williams – The Blitz

      Summer – Creative Nonfiction 2015

      Some exceptional new work from a great group of writers.
      We hope you take the time to read each and every one.

      Interview with Poet and Playwright, Dimitris Lyacos

      L.D. Zane – Kintsugi

      Audrey Iredale – What They Don’t Tell You About Cancer

      Sarah Sarai – My Month in Marijuana Sales

      Paul Garson – The Twice Fought War: Ethiopia 1935-1945

      Spring – Creative Nonfiction 2015

      Some of the best new work from a great group of writers.
      We hope you read each and every one.

      Mary A. van Balgooy – Designer of the Dream: Cliff May and the California Ranch House

      Susan Petersen Avitzour – Phil Och’s Guitar

      Laura Wang – Synesthesia/Synesthete

      Paul Garson – I Spy Cameras

      WINTER – CREATIVE NONFICTION 2014-15

      Featuring some of the best creative nonfiction from a talented group of writers.
      We hope you take the time to read each and every piece.

      Kyle R. Mustain – The Opposite of Suicide

      Eddie Argauer – The Two Faces of Janus

      Larena Nawrocki – Stomping on Spiders

      Paul Garson – Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War

      Karl Wills – Interview

      FALL NONFICTION 2014

      Featuring some of the best nonfiction work from an amazing group of writers.
      We hope you take the time to read each and every piece.

      J.J. Anselmi – Entering the Moment

      Daniel Carbone – In the Details

      Paula Panich – What God Hath Intended

      Melissa Palmer – Breaking the Silence

      Eric Vasallo – Interview with Graffiti Artist, Zamar

      SUMMER NONFICTION 2014

      Featuring some excellent new contributions from a talented group of artists and writers. We hope you spend some time with each and every piece.

      Simon Larbalestier – Interview (Photographer)

      David Rose – Interview (Writer)

      Keicha KempseyDos Trensas/Two Braids

      Ruth Gila Berger – Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin.

      Jacob Reecher – In the Care of Professionals

      Melissa Grunow – Shelter/ed

      Chris Casey – Legendary Filmmaker Seijun Suzuki

      Paul Garson – The Great Kantu Earthquake

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