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READ ALL ABOUT ME: BIO, PICS, VIDEO.   Please see below, following this week's chapter.    

FIRST, YOU GET PISSED: A Memoir

 

by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith 

 

 

 

The memoir will be posted every Sunday, one chapter a week, on this page.

 

If you're getting a late start, you can READ CHAPTERS 1 - 23 by clicking "PREVIOUS CHAPTERS" on the red menu bar above.

 

This week: 

 

Chapter 24.

 

IT IS INDEED one of my doctors. She greets the nurse and then says to me, "We so apologize for the long wait. Sometimes communication isn't what it should be. I'm Doctor Kim. I'm a resident." She puts out her hand. We shake.

     I say, "When you're through with your residency, I know you will fix things like that."

She produces two great dimples. She says, "I'll certainly try, I can promise you that…" she glimpses down at the chart the nurse has handed her, "…Mrs. Smith."

     If my late mother-in-law, Mrs. Smith, were alive, she'd be with me even though her son and I are divorced. I adored her. My own mother, if she were alive, wouldn't be with me, she'd be out on the links. I adored her, too, but I was raised with a low priority rating.

     The resident examines me, and tells me my vitals are great. Then she looks me up and down, a more typical examination of non-doctors, and says, "Keep doing what you're doing. You're lookin' good." Then, "See you in surgery, Mrs.—"

     "You can call me Mary-Ann."

     "Mary-Ann."

     I ask before she can get away, "You'll be there along with Dr. Quigley?"

     "Oh, yes."

     Thank God.

     She closes the curtain when she leaves.

     The nurse who says she'll be with me isn't. It is time to take refuge into my second largest activity after writing—reading. I get off the table, get my book out of my bag, sit down in Charlie's chair, and put my feet up on Jene's. The book is the latest from the guy who wrote Corelli's Mandolin and a dozen more books that come before. I love them all, but nothing will ever top Corelli, which is why I put off reading Birds Without Wings, this newest book.  I feel like it would be disloyal to Corelli and his mandolin to read Birds. But the writer has yet another book coming out soon, so I can't get behind. However, let me google here before I continue on this subject so I can tell you the author's name.

    It is: Louis de Bernières. Like, who the hell can remember that?

    Anyway, one of the ten million reasons I love XCorelliX is the rich and colorful names Louis gives his many, many chapters. In this new book there are 67 of them, twice as many as in Corelli! Clearly, I'm not the only one who loves his chapter names or he wouldn't have doubled the number. Inspired by Louis, I was going to give names to the chapters of this memoir. I wrote, Chapter One: "Dense Breasts." But I can't think of any more near to the quality of Louis', so I scotch that plan.

    I start Birds Without Wings by first reading the names of Corelli's chapters, a few times, actually, and they totally live up to rich and colorful. I pick my three favorites and will ask the writers' group I belong to that they do the same, and we can compare. My picks: "Ibrahim Gives Philotheix a Goldfinch"; "The Telltale Shoes"; "The Humiliation of Levon the Armenian." My backup: "A Cure for Toothache."

     A half-hour goes by. I'm loving this book, ergo am transported. But then a disheveled fellow with a major beer belly throws the curtain aside. He's got both old and fresh food stains down his shirt, a shirt that gapes open where a couple of buttons once functioned. I figure the guy got past Beaumont because all the security guards are probably having lunch by the fountain at the food court like I hope Charlie is doing.

     I am about to reach for the emergency cord when slob-ola speaks to me. He says, "Dr. Crenshaw. I'm your anesthesiologist."

     God, give me strength. I am going to have an anesthesiologist who sleeps in his clothes—clothes that he spills food on—and who probably lives on Bud Light to lose the beer belly when, as everyone knows, Bud Light will give you a beer belly bigger than the one you get with straight Budweiser.

     My wheels are immediately spinning, trying to figure out how I can get another anesthesiologist at the last minute. But my stomach growls and interrupts my train of thought.

     "It's nice to meet you," I say to Dr. Bud Light, "Have you got any food on you?"

     He just stares at me so I say, "I'm starving."

     Then he becomes all doctorly since he doesn't have a sense of humor and also might well think I'm making fun of him, and says, "Even if I did, I wouldn't let you have it."No kidding, you slob, I don't say. He is supposed to keep things light so that I can remain calm, I should think. He should be saying something like: For a hundred bucks, I'll give you a piece of gum.

     He doesn't say good luck or goodbye or anything else, just leaves, swinging the curtain shut again. I'm start chapter one of my book, just as the nurse returns carrying a tray with a syringe and a little glass bottle on it.

     I say to her, "Listen, I have to get another anesthesiologist ASAP."

     "Crenshaw's good."

     "Yeah? How long does he last in an operating room before he has to send out for a pizza?"

     She laughs, she puts the tray down. "Don't worry, he fills his tank first. Really, he knows what he's doing. People request him all the time, and besides, your surgeon is Dr. Quigley who will be in complete charge," meaning that he probably doesn't dare send out for a pizza or Quigley will feed him to the guy in that Hannibal Lecter mask, only leather, in "Pulp Fiction," whose job it is to keep an eye on Bruce Willis while Uma Thurman's boyfriend is getting raped. "Pulp Fiction" is my all-time favorite movie since "Casablanca." (I'm sure Quentin Tarantino created the rape scene to give the audience a realistic taste of the horror a woman suffers, and her awful vulnerability, when she is raped. Who can know that Quentin's real-life girlfriend will nearly get raped by Harvey Weinstein, but Quentin is unable to take the threat to her seriously. Now, he does. So when are you going to take a metal bat to Weinstein, Quentin? Maybe Mira's dad, Sorvino Sr. will hold him down.)

     The above is what my brain does when I'm feeling depressed and depleted. I have to trust the nurse is right, that Dr. Bud Light may be a slob with zero personality, but knows his anesthetics.

     The nurse bends down to me and brushes my hair off my forehead. She says, "If it's any consolation, it's time for your pre-op tranquilizer."

     Previous to this moment, I take a tranquilizer once in my life. I am in my 30s and I go to get out of bed one morning and can't because my neck is in some kind of spasm. I can't turn my head in either direction. I somehow reach my phone, the reach making my neck really hurt, and soon, Kay, my neighbor, is calling for an ambulance, and the last thing she says to me before I'm speeding off to Danbury Hospital is, sarcastically, "Thanks a lot." That's because she now has two toddlers to chase after instead of just hers.

     At the Danbury ER, I see a doctor who determines my neck probably isn't broken but orders an X-ray and a couple of Valium to see that I lay still during the  X-ray since I can't stop wiggling trying to get into some sort of pain-free position. After I take the pills I feel my muscles turning to mush, and the room begins to tilt.

     I am wheeled off for the X-ray and brought back.

     The doctor comes back again and speaks directly into my face, his own six   inches from mine so I'll pay attention: "Well, Mrs. Smith, you have a tiny spur on a vertebra in your neck and my guess is that it somehow made the slightest contact with your spinal cord when you went to get out of bed, causing a muscle spasm. This is the body's way of protecting itself. It's a fluke. It'll probably never happen again. When you get home, take a hot shower—hot as you can stand it, just aim the nozzle right at your neck where it hurts—then take two aspirins and go to bed. Meanwhile, we'll put you in a neck brace. Wear as needed." 

     Then he says, "Are you in pain right now?"

     I say, "Yes, but I don't give a shit."

     He says, "Perfect," and is gone.

     I really can't say enough for Valium if you're ever in such a predicament, and aspirin and a really hot shower if you suddenly have a muscle spasm. Works for me. I don't believe the ER's doctor about the vertebrae spur but he felt he had to say something in case I was the kind of patient who would ask why the spasm happened. I'm more of an I-don't-care-why-it-happened-just-fix-it person.

     The room at Yale is actually tilting right now too, same as the Danbury emergency room where I take the Valium when Jene is two.

     Next, the nurse takes the book from my lap, and someone is helping me into a wheelchair. I hope it's Hank Aaron, but I'm not conscious enough to check. I am vaguely aware of wheeling past the patients still in their cubicles waiting their turn, and the empty cubicles where other patients have already boarded and departed. None of those are back yet, but I think I must have waved at the gang across the way since they are slightly smiling and waving at me. The central figure, a really caring person, I'd have to say, calls out to me, "Good luck, sweetie." I give her a garbled, "You, too." The gentleman next to her starts crying.

     I am unconsciousness. I don't slip into it. One minute, there's a gentleman starting to cry, and the next I'm aware of some small discomfort, like I'm lying on my back on a hard floor, plus I've gone blind. I realize opening my eyes will help. I try hard to do that but nothing happens. Maybe I fell out of the wheelchair since the driver wasn't Hank Aaron. I try again to open my eyes and they do. I'm immediately blinded by white light that is even brighter than Times Square where they now use LED bulbs. Am I going down a tunnel and God is at the end? I sure as hell hope not.

     The discomfort I feel I pinpoint to my left arm. I have a moment of lucidity. I look away from the light and I can make something out. A tube from the vicinity of my inner left elbow is leading I don't know where. I try to follow it and can't help but notice that I seem to be encircled by a ring of people. Since they are all shrouded in white, it must be the Ku Klux Klan. I am in hell. But then I note that instead of the Neanderthal hoods, they are wearing shower caps. Also, masks that doctors wear over their mouths when they operate on you.

     I am on an operating table and…I am fucking CONSCIOUS!

     I hear a voice. Male. "Nu-Gu Chin, intern."

     Another voice: "Shelley Halloran, surgical nurse."

     "Marina Gonzales, RN." It's the kindly voice of Dr. Quigley's shadow.

     "Franklin Crenshaw, anesthesiologist." With that, I realize I must speak! The ring of doctors includes the Budweiser Light-swilling slob, who has not given me enough juice. I try to yell, Help! But nothing comes out.

    Next voice, not mine: "Monica Kim, resident," she who will make things more efficient when she's an actual doctor.

     Next: In the voice of an adolescent whose voice box hasn't yet matured, "Charles Newton-Finch, the 4th, Yale medical student."

     And then, "Diane Quigley, surgeon."

     OMG. I will manage words so Dr. Quigley can save me. I say a mish-mosh of syllables, none of them real words.

     The circle of people in white suddenly goes from statue-like to all looking around, eyes wide above the masks. They don't know where the voice is coming from. And so, with all the effort I can muster, I manage words! "Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, patient."

     A circular row of eyes shifts to my face. Dr. Quigley—I can tell it's her by her awesome black glasses—leans over me and says, "Go to sleep, sweetie."

     So I do, vaguely hoping she smacks Dr. Bud Light.

     I wake up. Time can stand still. I'm in the very cubicle I'm in before surgery.  The curtain is closed. Charlie and my nurse are on either side of me, each holding a hand. Charlie takes note of my eyes opening. He is waiting for that moment, I can tell. I smile at him. To keep from collapsing with relief, he bends over and buries his face into my stomach. He says something muffled. He lifts his head and takes out his cell phone. What was muffled was probably him reminding himself that he promised to call Jene when I wake up. He presses the numbers. Staring into my eyes, he says into the phone the sort of gobbledy-gook we all say, when we're crying while we try to talk.

     I'm sure Jene understands him since she's an experienced nurse and hears crying language all the time.

     But the nurse takes the cell from him. After she asks who she's speaking with, she says, "Your mom is out of surgery, and she's doing very, very well."  She'll be going home in a few hours at most. Your dad is doing well, too." Pause. "Your stepdad, I mean." Another pause. She smiles into the phone and says, "You're welcome," and hands it back to Charlie. She calls Jene sweetie just like Dr. Quigley calls me when I announce my presence in the operating room. Once, a waitress calls my father sweetie. He becomes a regular at that restaurant.

     Then Charlie says to me, now more sniffling than crying, "I love you, Wonder Woman."

     I say, "I love you, too, Eagle Man."

     Those nicknames refer to our second get-together when I suggest we go on the eagle-spotting trip with the Audubon Society on the Connecticut River even though it'll be freezing since it's February.

     When I suggest the excursion, he says to me, "Who are you? Wonder Woman?"

     I say, "Yes."

     He says, "I love eagles."

     Hence, our nicknames.

     In the post-op cubicle, formerly the pre-op cubicle, I begin to drift in and out of the anesthetic. Then I find myself sort of sitting up with Charlie trying to pull my socks on. How he got the jeans on, I'll never know. The only other thing I have on is bandages covering Starbright. Starlight is uncovered and all perked up, she's so proud of her twin.

     I think I will try to speak. I say, "Hi, Eagle Man."

     He looks up. He has a really tear-stained face. The nurse probably figured he needed something challenging to do and so she left him to the job of trying to pull clothes onto a half-conscious woman.

     I put my arms out. I say, "I think I'm falling."

     With that, the sock seems to slide up by itself, and he comes around to the side of the table and gets his arms around me and holds me against him. He does this with such an effort at being gentle and not leaning onto poor Starbright that I'm really relieved at his success in that department; Charlie is pretty much a bull in a china shop kind of guy who trips over boat lines.

He says into my ear, "Tell me when you can sit up so I can get your shirt on."

     I am so comfortable in his strong arms. But I don't say, XI can't sit up,X even though I can. I need a few more minutes, then I do, and Charlie picks up the jersey cami he has thought to put on the side of the bed while I'm unconscious. My instructions are to not wear a bra for a week, but rather something snug like a stretch cami. He brings the cami down, oh so tenderly, over my head and stops. Then he very carefully gets my left arm through the arm hole, and then not quite as gently, my right, figuring Starlight doesn't need that much attention. Then he covers Starbright and her bandages, and Starlight, too.

     Then he picks up the plaid flannel shirt, also on the side of the bed, that I grabbed from his cache of thousands. A too-large shirt is recommended but I know I'll need something warm since we're talking hospital here where doctors don't want you to see them sweat.

     Charlie gets his shirt on me, rolling up a foot of sleeve on each of my arms.

     I say, "Thank you, Charlie. I love you."

     The nurse gets back in time to see Charlie crying again.

     "Let me do her sneakers," she says, so she can get us the hell out of there. Following that, she holds up papers while telling me what they say—instructions on how to take care of myself. I don't hear a word she says. But it's okay since it's all in the paperwork.

     On cue, she says, "Look. I'm putting these papers in the bag with your shirt, bra, and underpants. You have your pain meds?"

     "Yes."

     "Where?"

     What a cool nurse.

     "I don't know."

     Charlie takes a prescription bottle of ten hydrocodone tablets—brand name, Vicodin—out of his shirt pocket and waves them at her. "Don't worry, I got 'em."

     I say, "I'm so damn hungry."

     The nurse says, "You must be. We're almost all set to go here. Ten minutes most." She leaves and is back in five with a wheelchair. "Go get something to eat and take one of your pills with the food."

     Exactly what I plan to do.

     I say to the wheelchair guy, "How's Hank?"

     "He's good, man."

     The nurse says, "All best to you, honey."

     Charlie says to me, "We'll start with soup."

     I say, "Okay." He is telling me what I should eat before I can have a chance to say, I'm having a hot fudge sundae, but I agree.

     Yale-New Haven has Scotch broth. Charlie has never heard of Scotch broth, something I was raised on—one of the thousand varieties of Campbell's soup. When it's home-made, it isn't half salt the way Campbell's makes it. The hospital Scotch broth is definitely home-made. So delicious. I offer Charlie a taste.

     He says, "Boy, is that good. What're the white things?"

     "Barley."

     He gets a bowl for himself.

     Once I finish my scotch broth, I take my pill and find I don't want to spend the time it takes to eat a sundae, but I need sugar, I can tell. Maybe a Milky Way. The Scotch broth clearly makes me a kid again. I make the request of Charlie. He comes back with one and also his favorite candy bar from childhood that is often hard to come by: a Payday. He waves it at me, sticks it in his pocket and unwraps the Milky Way. I first gnaw all the chocolate off, then eat the layer of caramel off the top. I stop.

     He's previously seen my Milky Way performance. He says, "What's the matter?" I look up at him; I haven't got the energy to eat the nougat. Charlie eats it. Then he dunks his napkin in his glass of water and cleans my chin.

     When I come to tell Dr. Quigley that after I take that day's prescribed hydrocodone (Percocet) I don't need any more. Four Advil at a time does the trick. She says, "Show-off."

Not quite the affirmation I expect. That's okay—the important thing is that having a mammary duct and its surrounding tissue surgically excised is nothing like having two ends of a broken bone screwed back together again—for that you need all the hydrocodone you can get your hands on. However, be prepared for when your doctor tells you there are new rules and he can't refill the prescription because you'll be addicted to opiates. Before that happens to you, here is my advice:

     First, after taking your last Percocet, see to making fresh ice unless your fridge has an ice-maker. Then line up on your kitchen counter what you need to make a perfect martini. (A hint of freezer burn does not make for a perfect martini that's why you'll need fresh ice.)

 

THE PERECT MARTINI

 

Place a martini glass in the freezer where it won't fall over. Also a metal shaker and a strainer, preferable a really clean one. Since there is no such thing as a really clean strainer, you need to buy a brand new one. (Are you beginning to see why Julia Child insists you always read a recipe long before you turn the oven on, before you find out you have only two eggs left and the Nora Ephron key lime pie you're about to make requires five.)

 

INGREDIENTS:

 

Two drops of Vermouth (Keep Vermouth in fridge after opening—it's perishable, according to my dad, advice he gives me when I'm seven while he's teaching me how to make the perfect martini.) Note: if you use only one drop of Vermouth, you have an extra dry martini. I don't know why anyone would want that, seeing how the usual, normally dry martini is heaven on earth, but who am I?

 

Three ounces of your favorite gin (My favorite is Grey Goose, but I think I once told you that.)

 

Half dozen large ice cubes, FRESH.

 

FOR THE GARNISH:

 

An olive without a pimento sticking out, or worse, an almond, or more worse, a chip of garlic. If you use one of those, instead of a perfect martini you'll have a shitty one. (Since you haven't read the recipe before you started, you may think you can dig the pimentos out of the olives you already have in the back of your fridge—likely moldy or smelling like Play-Doh if you have small children since they put their works of art in the fridge to harden and then forget them—but the flavor of the pimentos, etc. will still be in the martini. Yuck. Can you tell I can't abide a dirty martini? I would rather drink a martini with Play-Doh in it rather than olive brine.)

 

A toothpick. One made of wood, by the way.

 

Note: a vodka martini can never be a perfect martini. That's because it's not a martini. It's something Ian Fleming made up.

 

DIRECTIONS:

 

Take the metal shaker out of the freezer and put in the ice.

 

Drop in those two drops of vermouth.

 

Take the gin out of the freezer. (Oops, I forgot to tell you to keep your gin in the freezer too. Sorry.) Put your three ounces into the shaker. (If you haven't followed Julia's advice and don't have anything that measures ounces, guess. Note that if you guess you will have an imperfect martini, but at this point, fuck it.)

 

Swirl the shaker rather than shake or stir  it—a half-dozen swirls. If you're curious as to why, google why you must swirl rather than the other two options and learn all about the chain reaction required to end up with a perfect martini.

 

Take your martini glass and strainer out of the freezer and pour the martini from the shaker which you don't shake, through the strainer and into the glass.

 

Skewer your olive with the toothpick and put it in.

 

Sit down in the most comfortable place where you live. In my case, it's Charlie's lap. If your most comfortable place is someone's lap, double the recipe because by now you are following Julia's advice and have already doubled the recipe, meaning you won't have to share your martini.

 

Sip.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhh………

 

     Have a second martini at bedtime. Don't listen to anyone who says alcohol will keep you awake. Listen to me.  We're talking a perfect martini here, not a six-pack of Bud Lite.

     Next day, two more; day after that, one plus four Advils. Then, as needed.

     And so, since Starbright's surgery does not lead to anything beyond discomfort for the next few days I have just the one martini to celebrate the surgery being over since I feel a martini is a celebretory drink unless it's a pain-killer. (Unlike a doctor's interpretation, I see "discomfort" as equal to a hangnail. You don't feel discomfort when you have a mammogram, you experience pain. Notice they don't ask you your pain level when you have a mammogram. My average is an 8. And when you have an ultra-mammogram before a possible biopsy, it's a 10, though somewhat mercifully, lasts three seconds. Ergo, do all the martini stuff above before every mammogram.)

     I sleep on and off for hours and hours during the days after my surgery. Hunger can always be counted upon though, to wake me up. For our next three dinners, Charlie and I eat our version of comfort food: The first night, lobster rolls from the Sandpiper down the street; second night, rigatoni with meatballs following my Auntie Palma's recipe. (Per two pounds of ground chuck, beat one egg in a large bowl, mix in a quarter cup of homemade bread crumbs—grate two slices of stale bread—and a little salt and pepper. "That's all," warns Auntie Palma, waving her wooden spoon in the air, "you're not making meat loaf!" Form into balls and fry them till brown in rendered salt pork, and chopped garlic on medium so as not to burn the garlic, and then put them in your pot of sauce to simmer for fifteen minutes, give or take, along with all the stuff you scrape out of the frying pan); third night, three-inch-high lamb chops from Costco in Charlie's marinade (olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and a ton each of garlic and fresh rosemary needles) grilled rare. Julia Child once noted to her American viewers that the longer you cook lamb, the gamier it becomes. She, in fact, shouts an exhortation into the camera, a là Auntie Palma: "Lamb is not pork! Lamb has never given anyone trichinosis! You might as well eat an old shoe if the lamb chop is not a lovely rich, deep, just-shy-of-red inside." Julia child frees us to try rare lamb and swoon with culinary joy. 

     The morning after the lamb chop dinner, I get into the shower by myself, turn it on, and stand there for five minutes until the bandages are saturated. Since Charlie saw to a hand-held shower nozzle meant mostly for Salty since bathing a dog in a bathtub while trying to get him to stand under the showerhead is a debacle, I use the hand-held to saturate the bandages further. Then, staring into the wall, I peel them off with my free hand, per my instructions. I let the water run all over Starbright for a while until, finally, I muster the courage to look down.

    In the pouring water, about an inch above my nipple, there is a very thin line, the same pinky-beige as the nipple itself, though I don't think Dr. Quigley has anything to do with matching up the color of her scars to her patients' nipples. The scar is not two inches, it's an inch-and-a-half. As promised, it has a slight curve to it not unlike the delicacy of the Mona Lisa smile. Starbright is the same size and shape she was before surgery what with the lymphatic fluid left behind by my doctor who has everything to do with that. Diane Quigley is the best, isn't she? Even if she doesn't commend you for not needing Vicodin. Even if she orders you not to go to the Dominican Republic.

     I call Charlie, who is just outside the bathroom door in case I need him. He comes in, Salty trotting along right behind. They both get into the shower. Charlie is naked and wearing flip-flops. He's always prepared. He says, "You have such beautiful breasts." He runs his finger across the scar.

     I start to say, Thank you, but instead, I say, "All breasts are beautiful."

     This makes him laugh. He says, "That is so true. But yours are perfect." I laugh, too. Perfect?      Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. Salty plops down onto the tiles, all four paws and belly up. We both squat down with him under the shower and scratch his fat tummy. (Later, Charlie, not me, will have to blow-dry him.) We kiss each other above our stretched-out dog who's wondering when the hell we're going to squeeze the Johnson's Baby Shampoo all over him. I get out of the shower and Charlie shampoos Salty.

     I am now officially past one high hurdle, aren't I? Too bad there are more and too bad they get higher.

 

NEXT SUNDAY, September 30, CHAPTER 25.

 

A BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY (with pics and video to follow)

 

I was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut and have lived in Connecticut until I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. There, I lived in Buea, a town situated on a series of ledges five thousand feet up the side of Mt. Cameroon, an active volcano, its peak nearly 14,000 feet above the equatorial sea. Having aspired to be a beach bum, I am happy to say I now live a half-block from the Gulf of Mexico in the town of Fort Myers Beach, a barrier island that takes the brunt of any hurricane leveled at the city of Fort Myers. Most fortunately, I have a water-loving family and a labradoodle named Saltalamacchia, also a water-lover. Salty is my first dog.

 

My grandparents on my father's side emigrated from the Italian Piedmont, and on my mother's, Quebec. My fondest childhood memories are of sweltering summers blue-crabbing with my French-speaking grandfather from 5 a.m. until 5 p.m., my grandfather wearing a worn three-piece suit and cap, and me, my underpants. When I told my Italian grandfather that I would be going to Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer he told me there were very good grapes grown in Africa.

 

My brother was autistic, a savant, who would not allow singing, laughing, sneezing, electronic sound (including television, radio and anything that produced music), and the flushing of the toilet except when he was asleep and he never seemed to be asleep. He had a library of over two thousand books all on WWII. As his adjutant, I attained a vast pool of knowledge on such things as identifying fighter bombers from their silhouettes and why we dropped the atomic bomb. "To win the war," Tyler told me. "But it didn't work so we dropped another one. Victory at last."

 

The relationship with my brother was one of three influences on my writing; the second, my father's bedtime poetry and prose following the Our Father and Hail Mary: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look upon my works ye mighty and despair!" The third influence was the shelf of classic children's literature my mother kept stocked with such gems as The Swiss Family Robinson, Bambi, Tom the Water-Boy, Silver Pennies, King Arthur and the Round Table, The Child's Odyssey. Somehow, The Bedside Esquire (1936) found its way to the shelf and I read the extraordinary short fiction within, including Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Gallico's Keeping "Cool in Conneaut," Salinger's "For "Esmé with Love and Squalor," Hecht's "Snowfall in Childhood," and my favorite, "Latins Make Lousy Lovers," by Anonymous who turned out to be Helen Lawrenson, the only woman with a piece in the collection. (Sheesh.) There was also an excerpt from the novel, Christ in Concrete, by Pietro Di Donato, that so bowled me over I decided I would be a writer, too, just like all the writers who wrote fiction for Esquire Magazine in 1936.

 

After Peace Corps service, I taught, worked as a librarian and got my first freelance writing job with Reader's Digest. The Digest editor assigned me sports and games for How to Do Just about Anything, a book which sold 50 million copies world-wide. Reader's Digest made a vast fortune on that book alone, while the writers earned $25 to $75 dollars per article. I learned economy of language writing such pieces as "How to Play Tennis" in fifty words.

 

In 2010, I was awarded the Diana Bennett Fellowship at the Black Mountain Institute at UNLV, where I wrote my most recent novel, The Honoured Guest: Anne Alger Craven, Witness to Sumter, in Her Words.

 

My work has been reprinted in several foreign languages. I have taught fiction and memoir writing at many venues including the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT, and on the Aran Islands through the National University of Ireland, Galway, and online via this website.

 

Presently, I spend time in Fall River, MA, where I went on a tour of the Lizzie Borden house. By the time the tour had ended, I knew who killed Lizzie's parents and it surely wasn't Lizzie. The competition, however, is stiff. Since I started writing this novel, another novel with an entirely different take on the crime was published. And there is a film presently in the works, again, with another take altogether. I'll keep up my work on my own version, which, I'm convinced, is the real one.

Photo credit: Marion Ettlinger
Salty, my first dog--aka, Boy in a Dog Suit--who watches over me while I write.
Salty's Baby Picture. Charlie and me, along with Emmie, Joe and Chris