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Essays, Memoirs, and True Stories

Disaster Envy

I’m lucky to have escaped Los Angeles, friends and relatives tell me. From the safety of my Seattle apartment overlooking Puget Sound, I listen to their harrowing personal accounts of the earthquake, delivered in high-pitched voices over the phone. My mother, whose home sits precisely on the epicenter, tells excitedly of three-inch-wide cracks, a living room full of bricks, contaminated water, and a din worthy of the Second Coming. “A war zone,” she calls the house I lived in for more than twenty years. She would know. After all, her hometown in Austria was bombed by the Russians in 1944.

Notes to Each Other

This diary begins with the commitment we made to each other in 1965 to remain together for life. We were soon to discover that this act alone, although fundamental to creating a climate of trust in which love can grow, does not solve all problems, and we want you to understand that we did not begin as a well-matched couple or with any other advantage except this commitment. We were not brought together through signs and wonders; we did not even particularly love each other. We married on impulse the night of our third date without “hearing a Voice,” and things went rapidly downhill from there.


I sometimes study my wedding portrait and contemplate that vanished person who used to be me when I was a young American bride in the forties. The picture, now turning yellow around the edge, shows a slender teenager afloat in torrents of white tulle under a crown of forget-me-nots. I carried a bouquet of pink rosebuds, which, I remember, exactly matched the enamel on my long fingernails. I remember carefully applying tan-rose pancake makeup over my flawless but rather sallow skin, a glistening orange lipstick and pointed eyebrow pencil. The groom, a theatrical producer twice my age, had been making love to me for more than a year, but that did not lessen my bridal spirit. I regarded my marriage as a victory.

Conversations With Women

The day was significant: I learned what I am to my friend and what I am not. Obviously, I’m not her child’s father, but I have fathered women, and it is a position I fall into with a certain grace. I become reflective and slow-moving. I weigh each thing carefully, the way a carpenter places his level, and eyes the wood, and pulls it toward himself, running his hand along the grain, and contemplates the proportions. He asks himself, Will this thing fit well and mold to the other things and be useful? Will it provide what is necessary?


The main street of Yellow Springs, Ohio, is more chic than it was thirty years ago when I went to school there. But the Old Trail Tavern, where we went for burgers and 3.2 beer, is still there. So is the Little Art Theatre, where I sold tickets to the films — most of which I remember as French — that formed forever my views of what film should be. My boyfriend managed the theater. He had red hair and a red beard and was handsome in a Christ-like sort of way. Until he began managing the theater, he was a sandal maker. I haven’t seen him since I left school, but someone wrote me a year ago from California, where he lives, that he looks exactly the same, except his hair and beard are snow white.

Anatomy Lesson

I didn’t hear the word vulva until I was thirty. Instead I grew up hearing about it, my private parts, my down there. My mother and grandmother used Italian slang to refer to it: pesciuscia. Once, in Italy, my sister went into a market with my grandmother and asked the man behind the counter for some pesciuscia instead of prosciutto, which is the Italian word for ham. My grandmother smacked my sister in the head and walked out red-faced and empty-handed.

Perfect Rooms

The language is so much bigger than I am, so much older, more beautiful. How can I hope to tame it, cram it into a style?


It Starts With M

My grandmother regularly receives letters from my dead father. I’m on my way to see her now with one of them. Uncle Kirby wrote it. He writes them all.


After fourteen years of yard-walking a life sentence, Broadus Creek wore the mask of a traveler, implacably intent upon his route but thoroughly fortified against destination. Day after day he explored his realm in the green shirt much too large for him and the green pants so short that six inches of white skin showed between the high-water cuffs and the paper-thin gray socks collapsed about his spindly ankles.

Cabin Pressure

Ted stares blankly at the seat before him, wondering how his travel agent could have construed his standard request for more leg room as a request for this miserable seat. His legs are cramped, his neck tense. He remembers an article he once read about ankles swelling on longer flights, creating embolisms that travel to the brain, causing instantaneous death. He loosens his shoelaces.

Readers Write

Dirty Words

I first heard the word at a ballet recital when I was six. I was nervously standing offstage in a crepe paper crow costume, waiting to plié awkwardly across the stage before an audience of doting parents. My dance instructor’s son, a charming and mischievous moppet of ten, was whispering to me between laughs, like a good-luck mantra, “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸


In the sweaty, passionate, filthy embrace, in all of its delicious and time-dissolving power, in the midst of that embrace there is no difference, no separation between the spiritual and the profane. But it’s reached through the profane rather than through the spiritual, at least in my canon. That is the portal, that is the door into the whole affair. In that moment there is no separation, there is no spirit and flesh, there’s no conflict, there never was.

Leonard Cohen

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