Today is my birthday so I decided to give myself a gift by posting one of my favorite stories from 2018, my personal little twist on an old beloved nursery rhyme. It always makes me chuckle. I hope it does the same for you.
May 4, 2000
TO: Mr. Al Bumen, Homeowners Association
FROM: Humpty Dumpty
Dear Mr. Bumen
It is with eggstream distress that I find myself writing to you once again.
Apparently the situation regarding the eggceedingly narrow wall upon which I often enjoy sitting has gone unaddressed as I have once again eggsperienced a great fall resulting in eggcruciating injuries.
Usually my mishaps leave me slightly scrambled with a few minor cracks. However, in this most recent fall, all the kings horses and all the kings men were unable to put me back together again.
As a result, I now find myself an impatient patient in Eggcelsior Hospital, completely covered in horrendous cracks .. some so deep that my yolk is eggscaping like yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye. Do you not understand the severity of this situation? I am the Egg Man, goo goo g’joob!
The doctors have informed me that once I am healed I am to be hard boiled in an effort to protect my eggsterior shell should such a great fall happen again. This is no yolking matter as I have heard that hard-boiling is quite painful and there are no guarantees that the procedure will be successful.
In the meantime, I am being coddled in my hospital bed, sharing a room with a severely burned slab of bacon whose incessant sizzling keeps me awake all night.
Getting out of bed requires a gentle over easy roll maneuver with the assistance of the eggspert nurses on staff, but it is very embarrassing as the hospital gowns leave one quite eggsposed.
I’m trying to keep my sunny side up but unless the wall is widened, I’m afraid I have no recourse but to bring this situation to the attention of my attorneys Benedict, Deviled, Florentine and Poached. I assure you I will be doing a slow soft boil until I hear from you regarding this eggstremely urgent matter.
May 6, 2000
TO: Mr. Dumpty
FROM: Mr. Al Bumen, Homeowners Association
Dear Mr. Dumpty:
As you are aware, we recently had an issue with a maid who was in the garden hanging clothes when along came a blackbird and snipped off her nose. Wall sitting and clothes hanging are strictly forbidden, according to the Homeowners Policy. While we sympathize with your plight, the wall will remain unchanged. We suggest you try sitting on a cornflake instead.
Born two days before Christmas in 2002 at the same time in the same hospital were two beautiful baby boys. Both had gossamer flaxen hair and skin the color of edelweiss. The nurses marveled at their incredible likeness, remarking in their sing-song Irish accents “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would ya look at that! These babes could be twins!”
One baby was born to the king and queen of high society, Carlton and Evelyn Winslow of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The couple were like bookends – fair skin, blond hair and hazel eyes. The Winslow’s luxurious penthouse was located across the street from Mercy Hospital. Evelyn was having tea with friends in her comfortable library at home when she suddenly went into labor.
The other baby was the illegitimate son of Rosa Guarinos, an impoverished cleaning lady from the slums of Harlem. Her complexion was creamy, hair golden brown and eyes of green like her ancestors from ancient Persia. Rosa was sweeping the floors of Ken’s Tailoring, the little shop in Harlem where she worked when her water broke. Her kindly boss Ken Siegel carefully escorted her to Mercy Hospital.
It was fate that brought these two women from such divergent stations in life to the same hospital on the same winter’s night. Hours later both women had given birth to sons.
Five days later on December 28th the new mothers were discharged from the hospital. Evelyn and Carlton Winslow brought Maxwell home to their posh apartment where his elaborately decorated nursery awaited him. A specially trained nanny took care of Maxwell’s every need while the waitstaff plumped Evelyn’s pillows and served her breakfast in bed.
Ken drove Rosa and her baby Victor home to her basement apartment in Harlem. He offered his help getting Rosa and Victor settled but she declined saying he had already done so much for them. There was a mattress on the floor in one corner of the basement on which Rosa dozed restlessly while her infant son slept in an old borrowed cradle. The bathroom consisted of a toilet bowl and a sink where Rosa washed herself with a sponge, shivering in the cold December night. She breastfed Victor and cooked simple meals for herself on a hotplate.
The identical babies grew into identical toddlers. The Winslows celebrated Maxwell’s first birthday with a spectacular party at Tavern on the Green attended by their many acquaintances. Rosa and Victor marked his first birthday with a simple cake shared by Ken and a handful of trusted friends.
Shortly after Victor’s birthday, Ken proposed marriage to Rosa; he had always been in love with her and Rosa knew he was a kind and decent man. She cared deeply for him and believed in time she would grow to love him. They got married and the family moved uptown where Ken had acquired a larger space and expanded his small tailoring shop into a successful men’s clothing store. Their lives improved significantly and they were very content.
The years went by; Maxwell and Victor were now teenagers, entirely unaware of the other’s existence. Though they lived just two miles apart, the large and busy city allowed them to lead separate lives. They attended different schools and their paths never crossed. They were both happy, well-adjusted boys with many friends yet sometimes they both felt an unusual void in their lives – something neither one could understand or easily dismiss.
One day between Christmas and the new year Carlton brought Maxwell to Ken Siegel’s shop to buy a new suit for his son’s 18th birthday.
“We’re closing early today, Mr. Winslow – it’s a family matter. I’m sorry but I must ask you to come back tomorrow” Ken stated nervously when Carlton and Maxwell entered the shop.
“Oh, come on, Ken. You always make time for me” replied Carlton in his usual condescending manner. “I brought my son Maxwell in for a suit for his birthday. Are you trying to get rid of us?”
“I’m sorry but I have something personal to attend to. I really must close now!” Ken insisted.
But it was too late for just then Victor and Rosa emerged from the back room; they were laughing happily and Rosa held a small cake with a single candle. When the two teenage boys came face to face, a silence fell over the shop. They stared at each other in a strange sort of amused bewilderment, unable to deny or explain their identical appearance.
Carlton gasped in shock when he saw Rosa and she became faint; they had not laid eyes on each other in a very long time. Ken rushed to Rosa’s side and whispered “I’m sorry, my darling. I tried to get rid of them.I never wanted him to see you or Victor. I failed you.”
Rosa reached up and tenderly caressed her husband’s face, now wet with tears. “Oh, my sweet husband. This day was inevitable and you are not to blame” Rosa replied softly.
Gathering all his courage, Ken stood up proudly and spoke directly to Carlton. “Mr. Winslow, as you know twenty years ago I ran a small tailoring shop in Harlem. Rosa worked as my assistant, sewing and ironing in that tiny shop … but you knew that because you came there often. Eventually I was able to acquire this lovely store and you became one of my regular customers. After Victor was born, I asked Rosa to marry me and we have been together for seventeen years. Mr. Winslow, Victor is my adopted son and he’s very precious to me. I love Victor and Rosa dearly; we are a family. But even someone as self-centered and obtuse as yourself would know at first glance that both Victor and Maxwell are your biological sons.”
Clearly stunned by this information, Carlton stammered “Rosa, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”
“Because you were married and your wife was also pregnant. You would never have supported us or accepted us as your family” Rosa cried.
“But you deprived me of a son and Victor of a father! I could have provided for him.” Carlton argued.
Ken loudly slammed his hand against the front desk, startling everyone. “Victor is MY son. I am the one who lovingly and happily provided for him and Rosa!” he shouted. “You would never have done so even if you knew about Victor. You and your kind are selfish and spineless; you have money but you have no respect or dignity. Now, I must insist that you leave and never bother us again!”
“Victor” Carlton said haltingly, “I didn’t know. You have to believe I would have done the right thing by you and your mother. You’re a bright boy; surely you can see that.”
Victor simply stared impassively at Carlton, the father he never knew, and said nothing. Finally, when he spoke, his voice was surprisingly calm. “Mr. Winslow, you know nothing about me. Please do not dare to insinuate yourself into my life or the lives of my parents.”
Victor’s words stung and Carlton was taken aback. “Maxwell” he said angrily. “It’s best we leave here, son. Let’s go home. Now!”
“No, father. After all I just heard, there’s no way I’m leaving now. You can turn your back and walk away but I can’t” Maxwell replied. “I just found a missing piece of my life. I’m going to stay and get to know my brother, if that’s ok with Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.“
Rosa and Ken looked at each other and nodded in agreement. “You’re always welcome here, Maxwell” said Ken.
Carlton was furious but he made no attempt to reach out to his sons. Instead, he angrily left the store and began walking home, wondering how he would explain this to Evelyn. It wasn’t going to be easy but he’d figure something out. He always did.
One day my mother and I were home alone; I think I was about 9 years old. I was doing my homework and mom was cooking dinner when we heard someone knocking on our door. It was our neighbor Dotty Pessin who lived a few houses away with her husband and two teen-age sons. Dotty hardly ever stopped by so we were curious about her visit.
She and my mom made small talk for a little while then Dotty said in that whiney voice of hers, “So Nancy, I brought this record album over; I don’t know much about little girls so I hope you like it. It’s a record of kid’s songs. Why don’t you play it on your record player?”
Now this came as quite a surprise to me; it wasn’t my birthday or anything so I couldn’t understand why Dotty was giving me a gift. Even my mother was perplexed and said something like “That’s very thoughtful of you, Dotty” but Dotty just stood there smiling and watching me which was very surreal. Between you and me, I think she was a little simple-minded.
I removed the album from its jacket and placed it on my record player. I carefully lifted the arm and gently lowered the needle onto the record, then the three of us stood around listening to kid’s songs. I liked the record; I was 9 and they were kid songs. What’s not to like? After about four songs Dotty asked me what I thought of the record. I told her I thought it was very nice; I liked it a lot and thanked her for the gift.
I expected Dotty to say “I’m so glad you like it”, “You’re welcome”, “Enjoy it” or “You’re just the sweetest thing ever” – something along those lines. That’s not exactly how it went down. What she said was “Oh, it’s not for you! I bought the record for my friend’s 10-year-old daughter and I just wanted to see if you liked it. I figured if you liked it then she’d probably like it.”
Well, I may have been only 9 years old but I knew jive talkin’ when I heard it and I felt this whole scenario was pretty fucked up. My mother thought what Dotty did was rude, mean-spirited and misleading; I was just a little kid and mom gave Dotty a piece of her mind. My mother could really get medieval on someone’s ass when necessary. Dotty was bewildered and couldn’t understand why we were so upset. In a huff, she took the album and left. I think I may have cried; how would you have felt?
From that moment on Dotty Pessin became known as “Dotty Pessin, that Indian Giver” (which I realize today is totally un-PC and not acceptable).
But, come on; I ask you: who does that? After all these many years I remember that day like it was yesterday. Dotty-freaking-Pessin!
Time now for another installment of “Six Sentence Stories” as challenged by my friends at GirlieOnTheEdge. Punctuation be damned! This week’s prompt word is ‘EXCHANGE’.
When my boyfriend Keith sent me a surprise gift of a pair of metallic orange pleather boots with stiletto heels, I was somewhat taken aback; after six years of dating, Keith should have known I hated the color orange and thought anything made out of that cheesy fake leather was the height of tacky – what was he thinking?!
A couple of hours before the package arrived, Keith left me a voicemail that was gushing with delight and enthusiasm, positive I would be thrilled with his gift; in fact, his excitement was so contagious I was sure I would love whatever he sent me but nothing could have been further from the truth.
I don’t know what goes on in Keith’s mind sometimes and why he thought I would like the boots but they were hideous and I knew I would never wear them but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings so I made up a little white lie by saying as much as I loved them, they didn’t fit and I would have to exchange them for something else; Keith took it well and was not upset by my decision so off I went to the boutique – after all, it’s not like I hadn’t exchanged plenty of gifts from Keith.
I explained to the saleswoman that the boots were a gift and not really my style and I’d like to see what I could get as a replacement; she was totally understanding, agreeing that this particular fashion statement was not for everyone, and encouraged me to take a look around for something that caught my eye and didn’t scream “42nd Street Hooker!”
Just a few minutes after I started browsing around the store, the saleswoman called me to the front desk to inform me that I could not return the boots because they had been purchased on sale and had a no return or exchange policy; needless to say I was bummed out because I was looking forward to getting a nice pair of black suede boots or maybe a new leather jacket but that wasn’t the only thing that burned my cookies.
Inside the gift box hidden under all the tissue paper was a little envelope with a card inside which I hadn’t noticed before and was obviously not meant for me because it read: For My Steaming Hot Charlotte (NOT MY NAME!) – Can’t wait to see you dance for me wearing nothing but these orange beauties – Love Ya Baby, Your Big Bad Keith; but what really made my blood boil was thinking that ‘Charlotte the Harlot’was probably “oohing and aahing” right this minute over a gorgeous pair of black suede boots meant for me as a gift from Keith – that no good two-timing weasel!
The message on the Willoughby’s answering machine came as quite a shock. Roger Willoughby was suddenly facing a life and death scenario. He wasn’t ready.
Roger remembered how it all started a couple of weeks ago when he felt a twinge in his shoulder. Thinking perhaps he slept in a wrong position, he decided to take a soothing hot shower to ease his sore muscles. Afterwards he applied an anti-inflammatory cream and went about his business. The discomfort disappeared and he forgot about it.
A few days later Roger joined his buddies for a round of golf. It was a glorious morning and the foursome decided to play 18 holes instead of 9. Mid-game Roger started feeling sore but continued playing. Later that afternoon he was paying the price. His shoulder was killing him and he could barely move it. The pain was more intense than ever. His wife Muriel said it looked swollen and scheduled an appointment with her doctor. Lord knows, she couldn’t remember the last time Roger had seen a doctor.
After a thorough examination, the doctor arranged for Roger to have an MRI and also set up a consult for him with an orthopedic specialist. In the meantime, Roger was prescribed something for the pain and waited for the results of the scan. The orthopedist told Roger he would call as soon as the results were in.
Coming out of his trance, Roger shook the cobwebs from his head and listened to the message again:
“Mr. & Mrs. Willoughby, this is Dr. Arbor calling. I have the scan results. I was hoping to be able to give you better news but after consulting with my colleagues, we’ve concluded the best course of action would be to treat the affected limb aggressively. I’m sorry to say there’s an extensive amount of an insidious degenerative disease which spreads rapidly if not treated in a timely manner. Unfortunately, it wasn’t caught in time and there’s nothing we can do. Even with treatment the situation is too far gone and I’m afraid we have no other options. I was quite taken aback to see the amount of deep tissue decay. Once that sets in it spreads voraciously and is extremely difficult to treat; in fact, 9 out of 10 cases are inoperable. I know these are drastic measures but we must remove the limb as soon as possible and check to see if the disease has spread further. I’m terribly sorry; I know this isn’t the information you were expecting. I’ll have my assistant call you to make the necessary arrangements.”
Roger was so incredibly shaken by the message, he suddenly felt drained of all energy and his shoulder hurt more than ever. Cradling his arm against his chest, he stumbled into the bedroom to rest and drifted off to sleep. Perhaps it was the pain meds he was taking but he fell into a very deep sleep. An hour or so went by when he was roused by his wife’s voice; she was speaking softly on the phone in the kitchen. Roger felt very groggy and got up for a glass of water. As he drew near the kitchen he could hear what Muriel was saying and he stopped dead in his tracks.
“Yes, Dr.Arbor, I understand there’s nothing you can do. As harsh as it sounds, I believe you are right; we should bypass the limb removal and go straight for termination of life. I was hoping to save the old guy but it’s clear his time is up. Sadly, everything comes to an end. I agree with you there’s no point in dragging it out any longer. As you said, the spread is inevitable. While end of life measures are drastic, removing both limbs is quite radical and seems so cruel when all that would do is prolong the unavoidable. I know Roger will be shocked but I’ll talk to him, make him understand it must be done. Besides, having the old guy gone will free up some space around here, maybe even bring in a handsome new fellow! Yes, let’s do it as soon as possible. I’ll leave everything in your capable hands.”
Roger couldn’t believe what he was hearing. After 40 years of marriage Muriel was ready to toss him into his grave without a second thought. How could she be so cold- hearted, agreeing to end his life without so much as a second thought?
“So, this is what it’s come to, Muriel! How dare you!” Roger bellowed. Muriel was so startled by Roger’s outburst she dropped the platter of chicken and dumplings she’d just prepared for dinner. “When were you going to tell me you and the good doctor were going to do me in? Not even giving me the opportunity to discuss my options. Just chop me up into little pieces and toss me into the compost, why don’t you? I’ve never felt so betrayed and hurt in my whole life. How could you be so heartless? After all these years, I thought I knew you!” Roger collapsed onto the kitchen chair, his head in his hands.
Muriel couldn’t control herself and burst out laughing. Roger stared at her as if a knife had been plunged into his heart. His head was about to explode. Seeing the look on his face, Muriel composed herself; stepping over the spilled food, she pulled up a chair and sat next to Roger.
“Are you finished ranting and raving, you old fool? I’ll have you know that conversation you overheard was between me and Dr. Arbor, the tree surgeon – not your doctor. The old oak in the backyard is infested with some horrible mange and he has to chop it down. We were talking about the tree, Roger, not you. Chopping off limbs and termination of life! Honestly, do you think I have such little regard for you?! You mean everything to me, Roger.“
Husband and wife stared at each other. Muriel sat with her arms crossed while Roger stammered and stuttered looking for the right words.
“So I’m not dying of some rare degenerative disease? What about this pain in my arm?”
”Well, if you gave me half a chance to explain before you started screaming at me you’d know I already spoke to the doctor I dragged you to last week. You’re in pain and you haven’t had an examination in ages so now you’re assuming the worst. Well, it’s a simple case of bursitis in your shoulder, Roger, and all you need is a cortisone shot.”
“Thank God! I was frantic thinking you were going to put me down, Muriel. My entire life flashed before my eyes. Why, I swear my arm feels better already. Maybe I don’t even need a shot after all.”
“Roger Willoughby, don’t you dare try to weasel your way out of this one! We’re going to the doctor tomorrow and that’s final. Now what do you have to say for yourself?”
“What do I have to say? I feel great and I’m starving, Muriel! What’s for dinner?”
Muriel gave Roger a withering look. “What’s for dinner?! Is that what I just heard you say? Well, since our chicken dinner is ruined, you’re eating the next best thing, Roger – crow! You’re eating crow for dinner tonight!Now help me clean up this mess.”
The setting is Sunrise Senior Living, a retirement home in upstate New York. Julian Vega, approximately 30 years old, has just arrived to pay an unexpected visit to retired Monsignor Patrick Bannon.
Receptionist: May I help you, sir?
Julian: Yes, I’d like to see Monsignor Bannon if he’s available, please.
Receptionist: Monsignor has just finished lunch and is in the library, his usual afternoon pastime. Please come with me.
[Julian follows the receptionist down the hall to the library.]
Receptionist: There he is in his favorite corner chair. Enjoy your visit.
[The library is a comfortable room with paneled walls, Persian rugs and floor-to-ceiling shelves of books. Light classical music floats softly through the room. A tray with a tea pot, cups and a dish of cookies sits on the table to the right of the Monsignor. An empty chair is on the opposite side of the table and an open book sits on the Monsignor’s lap. As Julian approaches, he notices the elderly priest’s book is in Braille. Julian speaks softly.]
Julian: Excuse me, Monsignor. My name is Julian. I’m sorry to intrude on your private time but I was hoping we could talk. I have some important information.
Monsignor: Ah, I thought I heard someone heading in my direction but I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Do I know you?
Julian: No, you don’t know me but I’ve heard about you and knew I had to talk to you.
Monsignor: Well, it’s nice to meet you, Julian. Please make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to some tea and cookies.
Julian: Thank you, Monsignor. I’m fine.
Monsignor: So, what’s on your mind, Julian? You’re not from this area, are you? I detect a familiar accent.
Julian: I moved up here about six months ago; I’m originally from The Bronx. Quite a change of pace but I think I’ve finally found a place where I can settle down.
Monsignor: That’s good to hear, son. We all need to find our way home. And what a coincidence! I was at Holy Rosary Church in the Bronx for years! But please, you didn’t come here to listen to me ramble on about myself. How can I help you, Julian?
Julian: Well, you’re right about finding my way home. I’ve been a drifter most of my life. Times have been tough for me and I could never catch a break. My demons followed me everywhere I went, constantly reminding me of my sins and failings.
[Monsignor Bannon closes his book and carefully places it on the side table, a sign that his attention is fully on Julian.]
Monsignor: Please continue, my son. I may be retired but I will always be a priest and anything you tell me will stay right here.
[Monsignor pats his chest to indicate his heart. Julian hesitantly begins to unburden himself.]
Julian: Well, I’m not really sure where to begin.
Monsignor: Wherever you feel comfortable, son, but I find the beginning is usually a good place.
[The priest feels around for the handle of the teapot and begins to pour out a cup of tea for both of them. Julian immediately comes closer to help but the Monsignor raises a hand to stop him; he’s learned to do this and many daily routines instinctively over the years since he became blind. He hands Julian a cup of tea, raises his own cup to his lips and waits for Julian to speak. The two sit in silence for a moment before Julian starts talking again.]
Julian: My mother was from Puerto Rico. She and her large family settled in The Bronx where her father did manual labor and her mother took in laundry. My mother would help with the washing and ironing of clothes. They were dirt poor; my mother and her siblings never went to school. My mother did some house cleaning for women in the area. Her family was very devout and went to church every Sunday. When my mother turned 17, she was offered the job of laundress at their church. She eventually became the cleaning lady for the rectory and brought home every dime she ever made. She was good and decent but that all changed in 1970 when my mother was 20 years old.
[Julian stops talking and looks out the window. The monsignor tells him to take his time, gently encouraging him to continue. The old priest knew Julian was going to tell him something of extreme importance.]
Julian: My mother became involved with an Irish priest at the church and they began an affair that lasted seven years. That’s when she became pregnant. She told the priest that she was carrying his child but he refused to acknowledge his responsibility and told my mother he would never leave the church for her. It was her word against his and my mother knew no one would believe her side of the story. She was humiliated and desperate. She fled to Ossining to find her good friend Anita from Puerto Rico.
[Upon hearing those words, the Monsignor sits very still, makes the sign of the cross and rests his head in his hand. He waits for Julian to continue.]
Julian: Anita lived with her mother in the tiniest of apartments and worked in the kitchen of nearby Sing Sing Prison. She provided a home for my mother and I was born in that apartment. Several times my mother tried calling my father, the priest, with no success and finally gave up. Eventually Anita got a job for my mother in the prison laundry; I was raised by Anita’s mother.
[Julian places his cup on the table and both men sit quietly for a moment. Julian continues.]
Julian: I was an angry kid with a big chip on my shoulder. I was always getting into trouble, disrespecting everyone and everything. For years I heard whispers about the Irish priest at Holy Rosary Church who knocked up my mother and tossed her away like yesterday’s garbage. All the voices in my head screamed at me to get my revenge. How different our lives could have been if only he’d been a man and did the right thing. So, one day I went back to The Bronx, right back to the church where everything fell apart and found that Irish priest. I called out his name and when he turned, I threw bleach in his eyes. Do you remember that day, father, when you saw the face of your son, my face, for the first and last time?
[Monsignor Bannon weeps silently, his head bowed. Julian continues.]
Julian: I heard your screams as I ran out of the church. I didn’t know or care where I was going; I made you pay and I just had to get away.
[The two men sit crying, shoulders heaving. The Monsignor reaches for the box of tissues on the table, offers one to Julian and takes one himself. After a long period of quiet, Julian continues.]
Julian: But I was punished for what I did to you. As I was running from the church, I was hit by a delivery truck. I was thrown like a ragdoll, my body shattered. That was 15 years ago and my life has never been the same since. While in rehab I discovered a hidden talent; I’m an artist and I spend hours painting every day. When I was finally discharged from rehab, no one would hire me. I found small jobs like being a messenger and selling newspapers in subway stations. I felt like I was being cursed, chastised for what I did to you. I came here today because I knew it was time to make my confession to you. I pray you can forgive me, father.
[The Monsignor extends his hands and Julian reaches for them.]
Monsignor: Julian, there’s something you must know. Please walk with me in the garden.
[The Monsignor reaches for his white cane and the two men make their way to the door. The Monsignor holds the door open for Julian.]
Monsignor: Please, let me hold the door open for your chair, Julian.
Julian: How did you know I’m in a wheelchair, father? I never mentioned that to you.
Monsignor: When you lose one sense, your other senses become heightened. When you first arrived I didn’t hear footsteps but I knew you were approaching because I could detect the almost imperceptible purring of your wheelchair. I also knew who you were the moment you began to speak. I only heard your voice once 15 years ago but I have never forgotten it. It’s very true that God moves in mysterious ways. It was His wish that we re-connect, that you find your way home and that we become whole together. Julian, I forgive you for what you did to me all those years ago but there is something vital you must know and you need to prepare yourself for what I am going to tell you.
[With great urgency, Julian grabs the Monsignor’s hands. The priest can feel Julian’s tears as they fall onto his hands.)
Julian: Please, tell me what I need to know.
Monsignor: Julian, your mother and I never had an affair and I am not your father. When you returned to Holy Rosary seeking your revenge, I had only been there for a couple of years, taking over the position of the former priest who had been reassigned. His name was Patrick Gannon, not Patrick Bannon – a very easy mistake to make. I never even met your mother and had no idea why you attacked me. Now it has become crystal clear but I carry no hatred in my heart for you.
[Julian is shocked by this revelation and sits dumbfounded staring at the man he believed was his father, the man he thought betrayed his mother and destroyed his life.]
Julian: My God, Monsignor! How can you forgive me for such a horrible act? You’re blameless in all of this!
Monsignor: Julian, no one is blameless. Being blind has taught me to see with my heart. It has made me a better person, a better priest. I see goodness in you. God brought you here for a reason – not just for you to clear your conscience but to give you back your life. Sometimes it takes years of pain and hardship but there are things in life we can’t comprehend. We can only try to accept them and see what good can come from them.
Julian: I’m sorry, Monsignor, but I don’t understand what good can come from my assaulting you all those years ago. You’re an innocent man. Please tell me what you’re talking about.
Monsignor: Several weeks ago the art instructor here accepted another assignment and the directors have been searching for a new teacher ever since. The job pays well and includes room and board but so far they haven’t found anyone. I’ve been here long enough to have some sway. Julian, I’m sure you’d be welcome here as art instructor if you’re interested.
[Julian begins to weep again and the Monsignor places his hand on Julian’s head.]
Julian: I will never be able to repay you for helping me this way.
Monsignor: Julian, my son, I feel no need to be repaid. I have had a good life. You’re the one who has suffered for too long, physically and emotionally. Yes, it’s ironic how this all unfolded but God has a plan in mind for all of us and I learned many years ago never to question His plans. I see things more clearly at this moment than I ever have before. Come with me. Let me introduce you to the directors. I’m sure God will open their eyes and minds to the great possibilities that lie ahead.
[The Monsignor places his hand on Julian’s shoulder. Julian reaches up and covers the priest’s hand with his. Together they leave the garden.]
When my sister Rosemarie graduated high school in 1965, our parents surprised us with a trip to Italy and Sicily.
First stop was Rome where we visited my mother’s cousin Concetta. She lived in a quaint apartment building with a balcony. The first thing Rosemarie and I noticed was Concetta had a pet chicken on the balcony. Having never seen a live chicken, we spent a good portion of the day playing with it. After a while, my parents suggested we go shopping. We didn’t want to leave the chicken but our parents made us go.
By the time we returned it was early evening and Concetta had prepared a wonderful dinner of stew and homemade bread. All the curtains were drawn and we felt very grown up as we sat at the candlelit table sipping wine just like adults. The next morning Rosemarie and I were anxious to play with the chicken, but she wasn’t on the balcony. When we asked where she was, Concetta laughed and said “What do you think dinner was last night?”
We were shocked and started crying but our parents explained the chicken wasn’t a pet; Concetta bought it as a special treat for our dinner. Needless to say, it took me and my sister a very long time to eat chicken again!
Our next stop was Florence and we stayed in an exclusive hotel. My parents had one room and Rosemarie and I shared another. The rooms were exquisitely decorated with expensive furnishings and rugs. In the bathroom was a claw-foot tub, an elegant sink, a toilet and an odd-looking fixture we’d never seen before. It was about the size of the toilet with faucets and a small sprinkler in the middle of the bowl. When we turned the faucets on, water shot out straight from the sprinkler. We immediately turned off the water trying to figure out what this thing was.
After much thought we decided it was for foot washing. Tossing off our sandals we turned on the water and bathed our feet. We dried our feet with small paper towels and pulled the lever expecting the towels to flush away. Well, they didn’t. In fact the foot washer filled with water and overflowed as Rosemarie and I tried desperately to stop the water. Before we knew it the entire bathroom floor was covered with water which leaked out into the bedroom, soaking the rug. We watched helplessly as the flood entered the hallway drenching the carpet. A maid saw what was happening and began screaming at us in Italian. People came out of their rooms, including our parents. The carpet was ruined and our parents had to pay for the damages. It wasn’t until a week later when our parents relayed the story to relatives in Sicily that we learned what a bidet was. Everyone had a good laugh at our expense!
Talk about embarrassed! What did we know about bidets? I bet they’re still talking about us in Florence!
It was Saturday afternoon and the old priest sat in the confessional, humming and examining his fingernails as he waited for the penitent to arrive. Usually the most devout went to confession every week, sometimes more than that. Most of the confessions were harmless while others could curl your hair.
Just as the priest was about to nod off, a middle-aged woman entered the confessional and said “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I committed adultery twice this week.” The priest was understandably upset but forgave her, told her to say six Hail Marys and advised her not to let it happen again.
During the week eight more people confessed the same sin. The priest forgave them all but by the end of the month over fifty people confessed to committing adultery and he was ready to scream. He was so disappointed by the behavior of his parishioners that the following Sunday he greeted the congregation with the following announcement: “From now on if any of you needs to confess to committing adultery, don’t say that word. Instead say you tripped in a pothole and fell down – something along those lines. I don’t want to hear that distasteful word ever again.” The people were embarrassed and ashamed to look at the priest but they honored his request and did as he asked.
Months went by and the number of people who tripped in potholes or fell down was mind-boggling. Even people from other churches began coming to confess their sins to the kindly old priest. After all, saying “Itripped in a pothole”was much more palatable than admitting to committing adultery. The penitent parishioners certainly were creative and the priest heard every euphemism for “adultery” under the sun!
Suddenly the old priest passed away and was replaced by young priest fresh from the seminary and anxious to do God’s work. The new priest knew nothing about the “adultery arrangement”. One day a young woman came to confession and admitted to tripping in a pothole and twisting her ankle on a cobblestone … twice. The priest was rather perplexed but simply replied “That’s alright, my child. Just watch your step next time.” This happened so often that the young priest felt compelled to take the issue of the potholes up with the mayor and city council.
The priest telephoned the mayor and they planned to meet the next day. “Mr. Mayor”, the priest said. “Something needs to be done about the deplorable conditions of the roads in this town. People keep tripping in potholes or falling off broken curbs every day.”
“Oh, that” he answered and everyone began laughing hysterically when they realized the priest had no idea about the secret of the potholes.
The priest was taken aback and angered by the mayor and city council’s cavalier attitude.
“This is no laughing matter, Mr. Mayor! I can’t understand why you think it’s so funny. Why, your own wife tripped and fell in potholes six times last week!”
“Confusion, Jesse? What confusion? We have plans. What’s going on?” Mia stood impatiently tapping her toe.
“That’s just it, Mia. I don’t know what’s going on. We really need to talk about our wedding.” Jesse paced back and forth, hands shoved deep into his jeans pockets.
“Hold it right there, cowboy! Are you calling off our wedding?” Mia’s eyes grew dark and angry.
“No, Mia, I’m not. But I’ve been thinking – I don’t want this elaborate wedding we have planned.”
Mia’s face flushed. “Well, this is a fine time to tell me! Our wedding is one month away and everything is ready. My dress, the venue, the caterers, our honeymoon. Even the name cards for the tables have been printed!”
“I know. I just didn’t have the guts to say what was on my mind. Mia, I don’t want our wedding to be a circus with a cast of characters I don’t even know! I don’t need a six figure salary or a penthouse apartment to be happy. Your dad’s a great guy and making me a partner in his firm was extremely generous but I never wanted a rat race, cutthroat job and I certainly don’t want to be the boss’s son-in-law!
I grew up on a farm, Mia. My parents are simple people. The smell of the earth, working with my hands, tending to the animals – that’s what I know and love. I always dreamed of having my own farm some day, waking up before the roosters and working in the fields until the aroma of bacon and eggs lured me home to you cooking breakfast. I dream of shoeing horses and mending fences, four or five barefoot kids running around the house, family barbecues with homemade apple pie for dessert. I dream of making love to you as the moonlight dances off our bedroom ceiling. I’m an uncomplicated guy, Mia. All I want is us, a family and a farm.”
“Jesse, I have dreams, too. Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of marrying a man as rich and handsome as my father, having a huge wedding in the Waldorf, cruising around the world. Now you’re asking me to give it all up for a bunch of brats and a barn in Nebraska?! You can’t be serious, especially after all my father has done for you.”
“Mia, I never asked your father for anything. All I did was fall in love with you that rainy day we shared a taxi.”
“Jesse, you’re not thinking straight. Do you really believe you’ll be happy spending the rest of your life milking cows and going to state fairs or whatever the ‘simple people’ of Nebraska do?”
“You know what, Mia? You’re right. I wouldn’t be happy – at least not with you.” Jesse walked to the door, then turned. “I’m sure some day you’ll meet a guy as shallow as you. Bye, Mia, and thanks for keeping me from making a huge mistake.”
“Arabic For Dummies”? The Qur’an? What the hell are these disgusting books doing in our house? You’re still associating with that .. that .. savage, aren’t you, Gloria? Answer me!”
“Papa, please, calm yourself. It’s not good for your blood pressure. If you’re referring to Yusuf, he is not a savage. He’s a sweet, gentle and loving man and you’d realize that if you got to know him. He’s a student at the university studying religion and…..”
“And the making of bombs and God knows what else! Gloria, he’s an Arab, a Muslim, for the love of God! Haven’t you seen enough on tv and in the papers to know what these people are capable of? Crashing planes into buildings, blowing up villages, turning themselves into human bombs! They’re animals, all of them!”
“And since when did you become an expert on Muslims or Arabs? You’ve never even tried to get to know them. All my Arab friends are good people .. peace loving people. We’ve spent hours talking, exchanging philosophies and sharing meals.”
“I cannot believe what I’m hearing. You actually sit down and eat with these people, if you can even call them that? This is a nightmare! How can you do this to me?”
“What am I doing to you, Papa? You haven’t even given him a chance. You refuse to meet him, to sit down and have a conversation with him. You’d see he is a man of peace, a good man incapable of hurting anyone.”
“Are you crazy? Do you actually think I would sit with him in my house? Please, God, don’t tell me he has you brainwashed already! That’s what they do, you know…draw you in to their cult and before you know it you’re hooked and there’s no way out. Why can’t you stick to our own kind, find a nice Jewish boy? An Arab and a Jew .. whoever heard of such nonsense?!?
“I can’t believe we’re fighting over this again! Why must you keep bringing it up, Papa?You didn’t give Evelyn a hard time when she said she wanted to marry Sal. And what about Kenny when he and Makayla got engaged? An Italian son-in-law and a black daughter-in-law are in our family now and you won’t let me see Yusuf, simply because he’s an Arab!”
“Oh no, there’s no such thing as simply an Arab, Gloria. They all have a hidden agenda! Are you blind to what’s going on around you?”
“Papa, look at me. I’m a grown woman capable of making my own decisions. Why can’t you trust my judgement like you did with Kenny and Evelyn?”
“Gloria, you’re not thinking clearly. Sal is a doctor, making a fortune. Your sister and their kids will never want for anything. Makayla’s parents are both lawyers and she’s in law school herself. Your brother and sister made smart choices. They didn’t bring some maniac suicide bomber into our family.”
“STOP! Stop saying that! You know nothing about Yusuf and you have no idea what you’re talking about! He’s a wonderful man and I have deep feelings for him.”
“Deep feelings? What are you saying, Gloria? Are you sleeping with him?”
“Oh my God! I can’t believe you just asked me that! I’m not a child and, frankly, that’s none of your business.”
“None of my business? As long as you’re living under my roof, it’s my business.”
“Here we go again! Well maybe it’s high time I moved out of this prison and found a place of my own!”
“PRISON! After all your mother and I have done for you, you have the nerve to say that? And by ‘a place of your own’, you mean shacking up with that terrorist, don’t you? Why don’t you just stab me in the heart and put me out of my misery!”
“Enough! What’s going on here? I can hear the two of you all the way downstairs!”
“Hilda, אהובתי(“my love”) I didn’t hear you come in.”
“As if you could hear anything over all the yelling in here! What’s gotten into the two of you?”
“It’s your daughter. She’s being absolutely unreasonable. I don’t even know who she is anymore.”
“Oh, so now she’s MY daughter? Sheldon, the last time I checked she was OUR daughter. Is this about that Arab boy again?”
“Mama, please, I can’t talk to Papa about this any more. If anyone is being unreasonable, it’s him.”
“Gloria, why don’t you go out for a while, go to that nice coffee shop near the university. Sheldon, come sit with me.”
“Hilda, are you crazy? She’s going to run right to him! Don’t you see what you’re doing?”
“Just like you ran to me, Sheldon, when your parents called me a filthy Nazi? Look at me, Shelly. Do you remember what it was like for us when we first met? You a Jew and me a German. Ach du lieber! What were we thinking? My father was so furious, he wanted to kill both of us. But we knew we’d rather die than be separated. Sheldon, you should know better than anyone that you cannot judge one man simply by the color of his skin or what country he comes from or what god he worships. You’re a good man, liebchen. You were a good man when we were teenagers and you’re a good man now. You’re scared, Shelly, just like we were scared back then. But we persevered and in time my parents saw the real you and your parents saw the real me. Do you remember what you told your parents all those years ago?”
“Of course I do. I said ‘I love her and I would die for her’.”
“Ja. And do you remember what I said to your parents?”
“Like it was yesterday. You said ‘I love him and I would die without him’.”
“Things haven’t changed that much, Sheldon, except now WE’RE the parents. I hate to burst your bubble but they love each other and it’s as simple as that. Trust them.”
Cara Sophia – I send you warmest greetings. Unfortunately I have bad news. There was a fire in the guest cottage in Agrigento and all was lost. I know the idea of moving to Sicily permanently was very appealing to you but you were understandably undecided. Now, sadly, the decision has been made for you because the house is gone. Fortunately you still have your lovely house in New York. I hope some time in the future you will visit us for a few weeks at our home in Palermo. Ciao cara – Paolo
AT THE SAME TIME THAT CONVOLUTED DAY
January 1, 2015
My dearest Paolo – After much thought and soul-searching, I have decided to accept your kind offer to move into your guest cottage in Agrigento. The New York winters are getting progressively worse and I can not stand another day here. I desperately need a change of scenery and I’m ready to become a permanent resident of Sicily. Luckily, I was able to sell my house quickly. The buyers would like to move in in two weeks which will give me enough time to pack my clothes and a few treasured possessions. This evening I’ll check with the airlines and book a flight to Agrigento. As soon as I know my schedule I’ll contact you. Thank you again, my dear cousin. I look forward to seeing you very soon in sunny Sicily. Ciao caro– Sophia
AT THE SAME TIME THAT VERY CONVOLUTED DAY
January 1, 2015
Hi Soph – How’s my favorite sister? I’ve got exciting news! I landed that great job I was angling for….the one at the music school near you. I know it’s been a while since you offered your guest room to me and I’m hoping the offer still stands. You haven’t turned it into a shrine to John Lennon, have you? Anyway, I sold my condo here in Boston and all I need to do is to pack my stuff and buy tickets to NY. I’ll be there in about two weeks. Can’t wait to see you! It’ll be like old times when we were teenagers. Talk to you soon. Love, your favorite sister Angie
PS: Brad and I broke up. He’s such a jerk! Oh well, life goes on.
If you are reading this, I am no longer with you. There’s so much I wanted to tell you when I was alive, so many things I needed to explain but the words failed me. Now I find myself in the early stages of dementia and know this is my last chance to say the words you needed to hear.
You know my life was not an easy one and I learned at an early age to keep my emotions in check. I was always the practical one .. doing my duty for the family. How I now regret those missed mother/daughter times – never reading bedtime stories, going to the playground or snuggling with you on the couch. I was too embarrassed to tell you the facts of life and can only imagine the horror you felt waking up with your first period and thinking you were bleeding to death.
I never worried about you because you were the defiant and rebellious daughter, unlike your sister who is too much like me. I think I always knew you would become your own woman, doing everything you could to be nothing like me. Having seen you with your own children, I know I’m right.
Please know I did the best I could. I loved you even though I never could bring myself to say it. I hope you can forgive me.
Love – Mom
August 18, 2009
Dear Mom –
I’m writing this letter knowing it will never be sent. You’re gone now so who can I send it to? But some words need to be said. It was rough growing up thinking I was unloved and there were times I hated you for that. For a long time I thought it was something I had done.
My teens years were the turning point for me because I got out of the house and away from you. You know my mother-in-law was very different than you; we formed a bond and I found in her a mother’s love I desperately needed.
How I resented you and your aloofness! What a shame … so many years wasted. Now as I look back I feel sorry for you. Deep down I believe you loved us. You just didn’t know how to show it. I forgive you, Mom, and I’m happy I didn’t turn out like you. Rest In peace.
It was the night of the office Christmas party and I was dreading it. I knew Kevin was going to be there. After our breakup, I couldn’t stand being around him. I thought he was a great guy; I was wrong. He was only interested in sex. Kevin never missed a party, a chance to get drunk and hit on me. I wasn’t there long before he spotted me. I turned and headed for the restroom. When I came out, Kevin was waiting…..drunk, leaning against the wall, drink in hand. He stumbled towards me slurring “hey, baby”, pushing the drink in my face. I walked past him but he grabbed my arm and dragged me into the supply room. He spun me around, smashing his lips against mine, tearing at the buttons on my blouse and shoving his hand up my skirt. Somehow I managed to push him off me. Kevin was so drunk, he stumbled and fell backwards. I ran out into the street, gasping as the cold rain washed my body of Kevin’s stink. I couldn’t go to my apartment. Hailing a cab, I fled to the safety of my parents house…..safe from Kevin.
It was the night of the office Christmas party and I was dreading it. I knew Rita was going to be there. We had a ‘thing’ once which ended badly….for her. These parties…..I only go to them because it’s expected but they really aren’t my thing. I pop in, make the rounds and take off. I was set to leave when Rita snuck up behind me at the coat closet. Wrapping her arms around my waist, she tongued my ear whispering incoherently. When I turned around to free myself, she pulled me into the closet, fumbling with my belt buckle. Rita was grinding against me, her dress riding up to her waist. I was trapped by a drunken sex machine reeking of cheap perfume and bourbon. This is not how I like being with a woman and I was disgusted. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Suddenly Rita went limp in my arms and crumbled onto a pile of coats. I grabbed my jacket and made a beeline for the door. The air was cold but I knew it would clear the smell of Rita from my clothes and out of my head.
Hard to imagine life without her. When the hell did everything start to unravel?
Now he sat alone in the shell of their apartment, baseball game on the tv playing for no one, nursing his second Dewars. Once upon a time this place was alive with people enjoying one of their famous dinner parties. When he closed his eyes he could hear their friends discussing politics, movies, the crazy tenants on the 2nd floor … and the sound of her spirited laugh when someone told a dirty joke.
They were the perfect couple, the envy of all their friends. Theirs was an easy, comfortable marriage – viewing a gallery in SoHo, cycling through Central Park, steamy showers after Saturday morning love-making. They were in sync in their choices of restaurants, paint colors and the biggest decision of all … neither one wanted kids.
He sat there, head in hands while a thousand thoughts went through his mind. When did he begin having second thoughts? Was it the weekend in Maine spent visiting his sister after the birth of her first baby? Was it watching the kids in the playground across the street? All he could remember was the night he whispered in her ear that he wanted to have a baby.
She was blindsided. What? No! He was just named partner at Goldman Sachs. She was food editor for Connoisseur magazine. Life is perfect. They had an agreement, dammit! Would she just consider thinking about it? No! How could he spring this on her now?
Weeks, months went by. She remained adamant, distant. Then one day he came home after work and she was gone.
Here he sat, alone with his Dewars, ballgame long over, fingering his wedding band, staring at divorce papers.
It couldn’t have happened to a more perfect couple.