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The Sun Magazine

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

A Friend In America

I held the secret letter deep in my raincoat pocket as I approached the hostel warden. “Excuse me,” I said, obviously American but at least polite. “Are you busy?”


I was not home the day my grandfather Nonno died, but my brothers were, and they told me how my father had received the news. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas, and my brothers, Johnny and Peter, were visiting my father at his law office. Dad was with a client named Ernesto, an old family friend from Nonno’s hometown in Italy. My brothers were waiting in the lobby when Ernesto came flying out in a panic. “Oh, Madonna, Madonna!” he cried. “You boys, you come for your daddy!” Johnny and Peter ran into the office. My father made a noise as if he were choking. He held the phone limply in his hand, his brother Francesco on the other end.

For Lulu, With Love

She is pushed in through the door of the rural Mississippi clinic where I work. Behind her is movement, the rise and fall of slurred voices. Then a cluster of people crowd in behind her. But Lulu stands where she was pushed. She looks at me. I look at her, but not for long. When I look away, I’m not sure what I’ve seen there, in those black eyes with their faintly reddened whites. I’m not sure. I’ll have to look again.

Grave Matters

I want to die, just not any time soon.

Two days after reading in the morning paper that Allen Ginsberg was dying of cancer, I read that he had died. In high school, alone and afraid, I’d heard there were men who loved other men, but I’d never heard anyone admit to it. Ginsberg was the first. Not only did he love other men, but he was Jewish as well. So I felt hopeful, knowing I wasn’t the only one. 

The Polish Language

A faint murmur weaves its way through my dreams, like a radio turned down low. It’s my mother’s voice, but I can’t understand what she’s saying. Sometimes, in the moment just before I wake, I hear her more clearly — urgent, insistent, warning. I know I’m supposed to pay attention, but I can’t grasp what she’s saying. As her voice grows thin and indistinct, receding with the dream, I realize her words are in Polish.


We hold our support-group meetings in a room with Oriental carpets and deep green easy chairs. I arrive a few minutes early to set out chips, cookies, a foil tray full of fried-chicken dinners, and a liter bottle of Coke. Food is a big draw. One by one, they drift in.


Hey Jude

Always before it had been of no consequence: someone else’s intensive care. It had meant nothing to her in her normal life that, all day and all night, through waxing and waning moons and in every season, a child balanced on the eggshell edge of life, and someone else simply waited. Someone else bit the skin around her fingernails. Someone else left lipstick lips on coffee cups and marked waiting-room magazines with sweat stains of worry. Someone else. Not her.

Teeth, Death, My Friend Louise

I’m forty-one, but my nine-year-old son persists in thinking I’m only forty. He’s at that phase when children become obsessed with their parents’ mortality, and for him this takes the guise of frequent (incorrect) recitations of my age, my birth date, and how old I’ll be on my next birthday. I find myself unable to tell him that I am, in reality, forty-one (although I know for a fact I can pass for thirty-eight).

Readers Write


My sixth-grade teacher didn’t call students by their real names, but by nicknames that he invented for us. The names were unavoidable. He used them every day at roll call.

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸
Sy Safransky's Notebook

October 1997

We live under the shadow of the Holocaust, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of the killing fields of Cambodia — but the world does not seem particularly restrained by the memory of these events. Let’s not forget, here on the cusp of the twenty-first century, that new calendars are still made from trees; that the same old ax delivers the blow.

Musings From Our Founder ▸


“It’s never been my experience that men part with life any more readily at eighty than they do at eighteen.”

Anthony Gilbert

More Quotations ▸
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