My boyfriend tried several times to convince me to learn chess, but I was always too busy. And, besides, it just seemed confusing.
After about ten years of incarceration, however, I found I had plenty of time. A former prostitute taught me the rules. It turned out I was good at chess, and I reveled in my newfound skill and gloated over my wins. Before long, no one wanted to play me.
My boyfriend was in prison, too, on death row. In desperation I drew a chessboard on card stock, added drawings of the pieces and my first move, and mailed it to him. Delighted, he returned it with his best attack and a friendly taunt about a “little woman” playing his game. We went back and forth, redrawing the pieces. He made halfhearted accusations that my moves were computer assisted, and I took comfort in knowing I’d improved his quality of life in some way.
When the court denied his appeal, I hoped we’d at least have time to finish our game, but it was not to be. A few days after his execution I received his final move in the mail. He included a letter teasing that he’d as good as won, since he had my king in check with his queen.
I’m thankful he never found out that he’d parked his queen squarely in the path of mine, setting himself up to lose.
In college I began to study Buddhism, and I came to see all difficulty, sorrow, and loss as past negative karma coming to fruition.
In my quest for enlightenment I deferred my first semester of senior year and flew to India, where I spent hours a day meditating on having compassion for all sentient beings. I fanned away mosquitoes instead of squishing them. I chanted mantras and made offerings of flowers, rice, and candles to statues. I studied ancient texts and cried for the sufferings of others. I felt like the perfect Buddhist.
Several weeks into the trip my best friend, Kari, e-mailed me that her father had prostate cancer. She was feeling sad and lost. I sent her these words of wisdom: “His sickness is the purification of negative karma. You should be happy.”
While I was home for Christmas, Kari came over to visit. I left the room at one point, and when I came back, Kari was crying on my mom’s shoulder. “It feels like I’m losing my sister,” I heard her say.
After I’d returned to India, my mom called and told me my e-mail had hurt Kari’s feelings. Far from seeing the damage I’d done, I justified my words with religious reasoning. In the end, I thought, my friend would see that I was right.
I returned from India with thousands of hours of meditation under my belt, but my relationship with Kari fell apart. I’d mistaken book learning and philosophy for genuine caring.
At fifteen I was living with my divorced dad in the swamps of Florida. I was also a virgin and ready to start wielding this power called sex. I had a crush on the nineteen-year-old boy next door, whose sisters and I spent a lot of time together. This was my plan: I would jump the neighbors’ fence, climb in the window of the sisters’ bedroom (we had snuck out this way once to smoke pot and swim in their pool under a full moon), make my way to the brother’s room, and put this whole virginity business behind me.
I approached the chain-link fence and whistled softly for the family’s pit bull. Seeing no sign of the dog, I sprinted to the back of the house and hoisted myself through the window. The oldest sister awoke, startled. “It’s OK,” I told her. “I just need to talk to your brother.” I could hear his stereo through the wall. His bedroom was across from his parents’, and their door was closed. Good.
I opened the boy’s door, said, “Can you help me out here?” and stripped. He got a condom out of a drawer and put it on. My first sexual experience lasted less than a minute. It hurt, and there was blood, which I didn’t notice right away. Afterward I got dressed and left the house the way I’d come in, except I didn’t run; I walked. The dog appeared beside me, and I petted him, cried some, then climbed over the fence and went home, feeling not powerful but small and stupid.
I started losing my hair on Thanksgiving Day last year. As I served a turkey dinner to my extended family, I wore a soft, slouchy hat because I didn’t want any strands falling into the food. No one said anything, but of course they knew.
The day after Thanksgiving I went to a discount hair salon and told the stylist to buzz it all off. I’d expected her to ask why or have me sign some kind of waiver, but she didn’t.
“I have cancer,” I whispered.
“We get that a lot,” she said.
She took me to the last station, behind a half wall, even though no one else was in the salon. After she’d finished, she said, “You have beautiful ears.” I felt slightly ashamed, as if I were committing a lewd act.
When I stood before the mirror at home, I was alarmed by how large my head was — like a huge light bulb illuminating a very obvious problem. So I bought a gypsy-style scarf with gold embroidery. When I wore it to a memorial service a few days later, a woman I didn’t know told me she was having concerns about her health. My scarf had reminded her she needed a mammogram, she said, and she began to cry.
I switched to a wig, which was a total success. No one could guess it wasn’t my real hair. Women even asked for the name of my hairdresser. After a while, though, all the attention made me uncomfortable. So I returned to wrapping my light bulb in scarves and going about with a brave smile.
I managed to get through two months without showing my bare head to anyone. By the end of January, though, I realized it would be another half a year before my hair grew back. Tired of hiding, I decided to show my baldness to my closest family: my son, his wife, and my two grandsons.
Two-year-old Lucas had cried and run away when he’d seen me wearing the wig. I worried he’d be even more scared of my baldness.
Lucas was in the kitchen, pulling pots out of a cabinet, when I took off the scarf in front of the others in the living room. “It’s not that bad,” my son said. Eleven-year-old Jake even gave me a thumbs up.
Suddenly Lucas leapt over the arm of the couch where I was sitting, took my head in his hands, patted it, and planted a kiss on top. To him it was his grandmother’s “baby head,” worthy of pats and kisses, not tears and pity.
I felt nervous when my bishop, the leader of our congregation, called me into his private office. I was in sixth grade, just a girl. After a few innocent questions he got to the point: “Tell me, do you masturbate?” I didn’t know what this word meant, so the bishop had to clarify: “To touch yourself. . . . To fiddle with your private parts.” He continued asking about my sexual activities and thoughts, making it clear that if I answered yes to any of his questions, I was naughty and must stop what I was doing.
Though his questions made me uncomfortable, my parents had approved the interview. You see, I was raised in the Mormon Church, where such interrogations of preteens are standard policy. I was angry at being treated this way, but because the bishop was a man of God called to do the Lord’s work, I immediately felt guilty for being angry. That guilt clung to me and to everyone I knew, particularly girls and women, who were always questioned by members of the opposite sex, because women are not allowed priesthood authority in the Church.
My father taught in church schools and held a hyperorthodox view of Mormon dogma, especially when it came to sexual matters. He also had an erratic, unpredictable temper, and when he would pull into the driveway at night, all ten of us kids would suddenly find somewhere else to be. No one wanted to be the first child he set eyes upon. My mother rarely intervened to stop his physical and verbal abuse.
As a teen I began to build walls around myself to protect against sexual “impurity” — and also to protect myself from the possibility I might marry a man who would treat me and our children the way my father treated my mother and us. If that was marriage, who needed it? I wished there were Mormon nuns, so I could join their order and be done with it.
By my thirties I was so unhappy that I recall wishing someone would rape me and get me pregnant; that way, I wouldn’t be responsible for the sexual act, but I could have a child. I seldom dated men, and when I did, I rarely went out with someone more than three times before I found a way to end it.
The year I turned thirty-six, I left the Church and began to heal from my Mormon upbringing. A decade later I no longer feel guilty for having “sinful” thoughts. I quite enjoy them actually. But I still tend to scurry like a mouse from any man who might be interested in me.
I am now forty-seven years old and still a virgin. I feel a deep shame and regret that I have never experienced the feminine rites of passage: the pleasurable, intimate bonding with another person; the act of carrying and nourishing a new life. I have never had a wedding, never celebrated an anniversary.
To aid in my recovery, I often write down my thoughts. Sometimes I just scribble this (possibly delusional) mantra: I will find love, love will find me. I will find love, love will find me.
Salt Lake City, Utah
My son’s team, the Pirates, had a one-run lead in the last inning of the Little League championship. Our opponents, the Dodgers, were down to their final out, but Jeff was coming to bat. A friend and classmate of my son’s, Jeff was a good hitter, and his team had runners on second and third. Any hit to the outfield would almost certainly score two runs, giving the Dodgers the championship.
Jeff swung on the first pitch and sent a low drive toward center field. The Pirates’ shortstop dove for the ball. Most of the spectators probably didn’t think he’d come up with it. I know I didn’t. But the boy rose and held his mitt out to the umpire to show that he had the ball. Jeff was out. The Pirates were the champs.
As the jubilant Pirates congregated near the pitcher’s mound, my son, Bill, went to home plate to console his friend.
Distraught, Jeff pushed Bill away, but Bill placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder and offered some words of encouragement. I saw a reluctant smile form on Jeff’s face, and the two shook hands, which drew applause from the stands.
I was glad I had sunglasses on so no one would see me tear up.
When I was thirteen, I returned home from school one day and, as usual, tried to make it upstairs to my room unseen. But as my foot touched that first step, I heard, “Liza, I need to tell you something.”
I turned and saw Mom standing in the living room. “Something very disturbing happened to me today,” she said. Her jaw was clenched, and she stared so hard into my eyes that I dared not look away. She explained that she’d been to the eye doctor. “Do you know what he did?” she asked, pointing to her pupils. “He shot a microchip into my eye. Poof!”
After that, I stopped listening when my mother talked about her delusions. To others her proper pronunciation and air of superiority made her seem merely eccentric, but I knew she was losing her mind.
When I was sixteen, I told friends, “My mom is crazy.” Some replied, “Yeah, my mom is crazy, too,” but mine wore an eye patch and had ripped the phone from the wall because she thought someone was listening to her conversations.
When I was twenty-six, I called my sister Kate to compare the Christmas gifts our mother had sent us. I’d received a stained tablecloth and a smashed York Peppermint Pattie.
“You always were her favorite,” said Kate, who’d received a “slimming suit” for people who needed help holding in their bellies.
When I was thirty-six, I spoke with the director of a mental-health program about a volunteer board position, and I told him I’d been raised by a mother with untreated paranoid schizophrenia. I explained her symptoms in great detail, expecting him to sympathize with me.
“What an amazing woman!” he replied, saying how extraordinary it was that she could function as well as she had with such an illness.
I can only hope my shock didn’t show. He’d given me a new perspective on my mother.
When I was forty-six, after Dad had died, Kate and I visited Mom to help declutter the house. Sorting through piles of junk mail, I told my mother to recycle all the requests for donations.
“I can’t do that,” she said. “I’ve looked at the return addresses.”
I asked what she meant.
“Once I look at an envelope, they know I’ve seen it,” she said, and she pointed to her eye — the one she’d told me long ago had a microchip in it. “They might take revenge.”
Thirty-three years had gone by, and I’d forgotten about the microchip, but of course she hadn’t. It was then I truly grasped her mental torture — and her amazing strength and courage.
I’ve accepted that my mother will never be able to know me, because her illness prevents it, but I can do my best to know her.
St. Paul, Minnesota
The first time I won big was on my day off in Lake Tahoe. I was twenty-five and enjoying a little R & R after a grueling two-week firefighting assignment in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. I got a hotel room, showered, put on some clean clothes, and went out to Harrah’s Casino, thinking I might win enough to pay for a few drinks before I left town.
A friendly dealer showed me where to place my bet at the craps table and how to throw the dice. Every single toss was a winner, and I managed to turn twenty bucks into a thousand in less than fifteen minutes.
I tipped the dealer and, knowing my beginner’s luck couldn’t last, cashed out and walked into the cool night air. Everything seemed full of possibility. Even the stars twinkled extra bright.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but dopamine was flooding the pleasure centers of my brain. I was hooked. Every time I saw the lights of a casino after that, I got a little high just thinking about holding the dice.
At first it wasn’t a problem. In fact, that incredible beginner’s luck lasted quite a while. One night, while visiting New Orleans, I put a hundred-dollar chip on a single number at the roulette table and walked out six thousand dollars richer. But in the long run you can’t win against the casino.
Unfortunately for me, I still got a dopamine rush when I almost won. My losing streak got so bad that I began to feel as if I could do nothing but lose. One day I finally quit. My experience with gambling taught me a valuable lesson: winning can be the first step toward addiction, and losing can be the way out.
Two days before my mother died of breast cancer, I curled up next to her in bed and asked what she would have done differently in her fifty-five years. She said she would have traveled more. She would have learned to play more than one song on the piano. She wouldn’t have worried so much about her weight; in fact, she’d gladly have exchanged this lopsided body riddled with metastases for the plump-but-healthy one she’d once had.
I think of her words often when my inner critic gets loud. They remind me to be grateful for my body’s every roll, pucker, and wrinkle as long as I have my health. And when I want to hide my unkempt hair under a hat, I remember another of my mom’s final quips: “Any hair day is a good-hair day.”
Suzanne L. Weerts
Every Saturday my father and I took the Long Island Rail Road from Bellmore to Manhattan. At the candy store in Bellmore, my dad would get a newspaper and coffee, and I would get chocolate milk. On the train he would read while I stared out the window at the world flashing by.
The police had arrested my dad for bribing a government official, and he was awaiting trial. He’d lost his job, and my mother had pawned her jewelry to help pay the bills. At school the other children teased me. I was eight years old.
My father had gotten a new job at Melvin’s Frame Shop in the west Thirties or Forties. We would walk there from Penn Station. Melvin worked for museums and art galleries, making huge, elaborate gold and silver frames. My dad’s duties were to sweep the floors and label and organize the frames. I would sit on a table, my skinny little-girl legs dangling, and watch my dad sweep up wood shavings with a huge broom and dustpan while Melvin berated him, telling him where to sweep and calling him lazy. My dad, a tall man — six foot one — would shrink before my eyes. I was scared Melvin would make him disappear.
I’m not sure why my dad brought me with him to work on Saturdays. Maybe he wanted me to know that he loved me. Maybe he was lonely. Maybe it was because Saturday had always been our day to go to museums and plays and movies, and he didn’t want to let go of that togetherness.
At five o’clock we would leave the frame shop and walk down Broadway to Penn Station, stopping at a diner along the way. He would get a steaming cup of coffee, and I would get a chocolate milkshake and pretend that I was a princess from the Island of Long, and we were having a day out, and no one could find us.
After a few months my dad was acquitted on a technicality. He stopped working at the frame shop, and we never talked about that time. It was as if it had been swept away with the wood shavings and dust and buried deep.
Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania
I was sixteen; he was twenty-six — and my high-school English teacher. I tricked him into telling me where he lived: a yellow house around the corner from the record store. On his day off I perched on his concrete stoop and waited. When he appeared, I got up and said, “Hi.”
At the cafe he treated me to an Italian soda while he drank coffee. We sat awkwardly at a metal outdoor table chained to a drainpipe. I stirred the ice cubes in my drink and watched the red syrup settle at the bottom of the glass. It was November, and the patch of sun we were sitting in was no match for the cold wind. He invited me back to his warm apartment. The whole place smelled of leftover Chinese food. I sat on his bed. When he didn’t touch me, I wrapped my arms around my knees.
He said he was falling in love with me.
I squeezed harder, thinking, I won!
Did I see it as a game? How could I win? I was sixteen, and he was twenty-six.
My mother loved Christmas. On good December days during my adolescence, our northern-Michigan home was filled with the scent of fudge cooking and the sounds of the Judy Collins record Come Rejoice! On bad days the house reeked of unwashed laundry and Bacardi rum, and the only sound was my shrill voice, yelling at my mom, who was in the throes of a binge.
Once, my inebriated mother woefully told me that she had withdrawn six hundred dollars from the bank and promptly misplaced it. In truth I had taken the envelope full of money — nearly enough to cover our rent — and hidden it in a place she would never think to look while drinking: the oven. I didn’t want her spending the cash on alcohol.
Our house had been built in 1905, and my mother believed it was haunted. I suggested the ghosts had stolen the six hundred dollars, thinking she might find the idea sobering. But the missing money just made my mom crave the bottle more. On day three of her binge she took her credit card to the corner liquor store, venturing out into the snow clad in a wool-lined coat, earmuffs — and sandals.
“The ghosts are tormenting you!” I yelled as she left. “They hid your money and your boots!”
The binge came and went. On her first sober morning my mom stared dull-eyed into her coffee, looking like a sorry failure, and told me how ashamed she was for having lost the money. I said nothing. I so liked the idea of the ghosts hiding the cash that by now I’d almost convinced myself that’s what had happened. It reminded me of Dickens’s Christmas Carol, in which the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come convince Ebenezer Scrooge to be a better person. Maybe if I let my mother believe that some supernatural being was punishing her for her alcoholism, she would change, too.
A few days later, clearheaded and joyful, my mother went to place a pan of cookies into the oven and found the envelope with all the money atop a rack.
“Wow,” I said, feigning surprise. “Those ghosts are clever.”
At the age of thirteen I won a state beauty pageant. I went on to lose at the national level, but by then I was smitten by the notion that my blossoming womanhood could be used to gain attention and cash. So I tried modeling.
Part of me was certain I’d lost the pageant because my body wasn’t perfect enough, and I began to lose weight — a lot of it. My periods stopped, my breasts flattened, and my hips jutted out at sharp angles. I’d lost my femininity. But the evidence that this was the path to success could be seen walking down any fashion runway.
I eventually gave up hoping that I’d ever be pretty enough, and I stopped starving myself. At forty-one I’m still haunted by those late-teen years when I dieted, purged, and exercised away my womanhood.
As my face starts to show my age and my body grows less resilient, I’m amazed to feel relieved. It’s good to be an actual woman. I’d like to go back and whisper to my thirteen-year-old self, disheartened by the loss of an artificial crown and sash: Don’t worry, sweetheart. You have so much to gain by losing.
On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States. Now, three weeks later, winter has arrived in the White Mountains of Arizona. Temperatures have dropped to single digits, and there is new snow on the ground. Undeterred by the cold, two Mexican wolves trot through stands of ponderosa pine and weave among bare aspen trees. A mated pair, they are tracking a herd of elk. The heavy undercoats they have grown over the last few months keep them warm and dry.
The wolves know nothing of politics or national borders. Their territory straddles the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in the shadow of Mount Baldy. They are two of fewer than a hundred Mexican gray wolves left in the wild. Threats to their population abound: A blow to the head from the hoof of an elk. Ambush by a mountain lion. Starvation. Humans with vehicles and guns. And inbreeding. Local resistance — primarily from ranchers and hunters — to reintroducing wolves has made it nearly impossible to move animals bred in captivity into the wild.
Our pair of wolves, though, are not related. In January or February, if all goes well, they will breed. By then a new president will have been sworn in. So far the incoming administration has shown little regard for endangered species. There are numerous bills and amendments in Congress that aim to cut funding for the reintroduction effort and possibly remove wolves from the endangered-species list, stripping all protection. These bills are nothing new, but after January 20 we will have a president who is likely to sign them.
The days are growing shorter. The two wolves run silently through the woods. They are lucky: they do not know they have lost.
Paula K. Nixon
Santa Fe, New Mexico
One summer afternoon I got a text message from my fourteen-year-old daughter, who was away for a week with a friend and her family: “I’m agender. Please use the pronouns they or them for me.” Thus began a three-hour typed conversation about how she didn’t fit into the binary system of male and female. I normally would not have had such a serious conversation by text, but I figured this was a safe way for her to tell me. Her struggles with weight and school and her isolation of late now made more sense.
When she got home, my daughter requested new clothes. I took her to a store, and she picked out some boys’ items and headed to a dressing room — the men’s dressing room. I told her she shouldn’t go in there. “Mom,” she said, “they look exactly the same as women’s dressing rooms.”
Next came the request to bind her breasts. She was a DD cup, so it wasn’t easy. After several attempts she wasn’t flat chested, but she was certainly bound. Then came the haircut. She kept telling me she wanted it short — really short. I took her to my hairdresser, who did a wonderful job. My daughter lit up when she looked in the mirror.
My daughter had lifeguard class in school. What could she possibly wear? I googled “trans F to M bathing suits.” Needless to say, I’d never imagined doing this.
That fall, for her birthday, my daughter asked to hang out with friends at the zoo. As we walked through the parking lot, she turned to me and said, “By the way, everyone calls me Eli now.” I had just moments to take this in before greeting her friends.
I am making my own transition: to calling my child by a new name; to saying he instead of she. It’s not been easy. I’ve stumbled even as I’ve tried to be supportive. Eli has soared as a transgender male, fighting for his rights and supporting others in the LGBT community. In our relationship we’ve found a trust that we might not have developed otherwise. I have lost my daughter, but I have gained a son.
On the Saturday night before my husband left me, he and I ate at the Iraqi buffet downtown — his idea. We sat at a table for two and had falafel and fattoush salad and lamb and talked about an upcoming concert we were going to, the incomprehensible possibility of Donald Trump winning the Republican primary, and our worries over our younger son’s future. We bumped into some old friends who invited us to a party, and we accepted. There were no signs of trouble ahead.
Yet that Sunday at 10 AM, after breakfast, my husband proclaimed that he’d been having an affair for two years, that he was in love with the other woman, and that she was more than four months pregnant. He was leaving me. Although he apologized and seemed upset, there was no negotiation — not then nor during the three months of counseling that followed. In the space of about ninety seconds he had undone twenty-six years of marriage. I never saw it coming.
I remember as a young child watching from my bedroom window as my mother left for work. Once her car had slipped out of sight, I would wonder if I’d ever see her again. I had no particular reason to think she wouldn’t return, but even the remote possibility of losing her terrified me. My mother was everything to my family. My father was unable to provide for my brother and me. Our mother took care of us, never complained, and never asked for help.
As I grew up, the fear of losing her faded somewhat, but it would return whenever I got a phone call from my parents at an irregular time, or if I called and they didn’t answer right away. I would say to myself, This is it.
On a spring day in 2007 my mother called and told me she had polycystic kidney disease, or PKD. I had never heard of PKD and didn’t know how worried I should be. Her doctor had informed her there was a 50 percent chance she had passed it on to my brother and me. “You have to get checked out,” she said.
I was diagnosed with PKD a few weeks later. There is no cure. The disease will degrade my kidneys until they can no longer function, which may take a few years or a few decades. There is no way to predict.
Nine years later I feel lucky that I am relatively healthy and my mother is still alive, but her doctor recently informed her that she is nearing end-stage kidney failure. When I heard this, my childhood fear pushed its way to the forefront of my consciousness, having never really gone away. The day is coming. It’s more real now than it ever was, and I’m afraid.
Todd J. Mendelsohn
Toward the end of the softball game I stood on the sidelines, feeling happy and alive. My body was pain-free for a change. At sixty-seven I was by far the oldest player on the field and glad just to be able to play one more season.
After the game I found the opposing pitcher and shook hands with him and several other players. Though we lacked an umpire and chalk for the baselines, there had been no fighting or arguing. In prison this is the best you can hope for.
As I walked back to the housing unit, someone asked me what the score had been. I didn’t know, I realized. More to the point, I didn’t care. I’d played well and felt good. For me there was no losing.
Deer Lodge, Montana
When I was in the sixth grade in Federal Way, Washington, I would arrive at school early to play soccer with the other kids before classes. One boy was always there: Jamal. He had a petite build and brown skin and could run faster than I could. I would often chase him up the sidelines, falling behind as he rushed to score. Trailing him one soggy morning, I got a foot on the ball, and he tumbled and banged his head. Jamal got up angry and cried foul. I was indignant and proud that I had gotten the better of him for once.
Months later, on a warm spring day, I was sulking around my neighborhood, lonely and frustrated that I had no one to play with, when Jamal rolled up on his bicycle. I am ashamed to say what happened next: I grabbed his handlebars with a sneer and slammed my fist into his stomach. Jamal doubled up and struggled for breath, then looked at me with a tear on his cheek and said, “I thought we were friends.” I let go of his bike and watched him pedal awkwardly away.
I didn’t understand at the time why I’d done what I had. Maybe I thought it was because Jamal had been my rival on the soccer field. Now, in my forties, I know this behavior came from the way my grandparents had raised me. Grandma had grown up in the South and used offensive language like “mammy” and “tar baby” and the N-word as if they were terms of endearment. Grandpa told racist jokes and had scathing words for Jews, Mexicans, blacks, and Asians. He sometimes even directed his vitriol at people I knew.
My own racism was tempered by the influence of teachers and mentors who modeled respectful conduct, and I think I believed in treating everyone equally. But I didn’t actually do it. When I encountered Jamal that day, my first response was to swing at him. It had never occurred to me that we could be friends.
In my twenties I lived in South Florida. My romantic relationships there seemed to mirror the state’s stormy, unpredictable weather.
I had never been so sexually obsessed with anyone as I was with H. I stole one of his unwashed shirts so I could sleep with the smell of him on my pillow. I also put up with his continual lying and callousness.
At the same time, there was B., a sweet, soft-spoken man who loved me to the point of obsession, putting up with my moods, disdain, and constant demands.
When I moved across the country to take a new job, my heart was broken because I would be leaving H. behind. And I was breaking B.’s heart, too.
My life became far less dramatic after that — which, to be honest, was a relief. I settled into marriage, parenting, and a career. When the Internet came along, I periodically searched for information on those two men from my past. B. had graduated from law school and become the head of a government agency. H. had gotten married and taken up marathon swimming. I considered e-mailing them but never did. It was somehow enough to know they were out there.
One night I discovered H.’s obituary online. He had died of cancer. Minutes later I found B.’s obit, dated just a few months before H.’s. The intensity of my reaction surprised me. I sobbed and had tortured, erotic dreams about them for weeks.
My grief wasn’t just over losing these two men I’d known. It was also over the knowledge that I would never again feel such an uncontrollable passion for someone, and that no one would ever again be that out-of-his-head in love with me.
Santa Cruz, California
After my mother died, I was sorting through her jewelry and found my grandmother’s wedding ring: a thin platinum band with delicate etching. I knew it was my grandmother’s because of the wedding date and initials engraved on the inside. My mother had worn it until she’d gone into a nursing home and been advised to leave all jewelry behind.
I tried to slip it on my ring finger, but it was too tight. It fit loosely on my pinkie, though, and I wore it through a hard two years of grieving. Having no siblings or living aunts or uncles, I was the oldest person left in my family. I felt untethered. The ring was a connection to my mother and my grandmother. The platinum that had once touched their skin now touched mine.
One afternoon in May, while rehearsing a play with my sixth-grade students, I idly touched my pinkie and found no ring. I knew I had worn it that day; I always wore it. Panicked, I looked on the floor. Perhaps it had fallen off next to the piano while I’d turned pages for the music teacher. No, it wasn’t there. I raced back to my classroom, but there was no sign of the thin, etched band.
That morning, for Field Day, I had escorted my class around the soccer field, the blacktop, and the baseball diamond. After school I walked these areas methodically. No luck. The next day, a Saturday, I rented a metal detector and waved it over every blade of grass and clump of clover. Nothing.
Early the next week I remembered washing up in the staff restroom the day I’d lost the ring. I decided it must have come off when I’d dried my hands with the stiff paper towel. If so, it was long gone with the trash collection. I chastised myself for my carelessness. My finger felt naked.
At least the ring still existed someplace. I made up a story about someone finding it, puzzling over the initials inside, perhaps making up her own story about the previous owner. I hoped the finder would be happy with this random gift from the universe; that she would wear it and, when she lifted her hand to open a window or snip a climbing rose from its vine, admire the way the band caught the light.