AN AUNT’S LAMENT

Our picture challenge – what do you see when you look at this photo.
This one was very difficult and painful for me to write.

Oh, my precious niece. Welcome to the family! I’ve waited so long to meet you and now you’re here.

I’ve longed to hold a little girl in my arms, to breath in that sweet baby smell.

You have two little cousins – my boys. They’re a bit older than you and they’ll protect you always, just as they would have protected their own sisters.

Yes, little one, I almost had baby girls, three in fact; it just wasn’t meant to be. The daughters I desperately wanted but never had. My body just couldn’t hold on to them.

They’re safe in heaven so don’t cry, my love; I cried enough to last a lifetime.

Now it’s time to say good night. Have no fear, sweet girl. I’ll always hold on to you.

NAR © 2022

Written for Sadje’s What Do You See prompt. Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema @ Unsplash.

SINGING HIS PRAISES

This weekend our challenge is to write a poem or story
in exactly 95 words incorporating the word “opera”.
 Please see the challenge link below the video.

About 20 years ago I discovered my son David could sing. He had been out at a karaoke bar and I heard he “blew the roof off the place” singing an Iron Maiden song.  

Well, that was enough for me. When I heard him sing I was stunned. I convinced him to join me in our church choir. He soon became lead tenor and joined several opera companies.  

Since COVID, David has not performed. You can be sure once he’s back on stage his dad and I will be right there in the front row.

NAR © 2022

🎶 🎶 🎶 🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶

NB – David is The Wandering Minstrel. This is the entire operetta starting at David’s entrance point. Please do not feel compelled to watch the entire show; however, if you do, I hope you enjoy the renaissance version of Il Mikado!

Thanks to my challenging friends at https://sammiscribbles.wordpress.com/2022/08/27/weekend-writing-prompt-274-opera/

A ROLL OF THE DICE

It was a picture-perfect day just before Christmas, 2001; not a cloud in the sky. My husband Bill and I were returning from a two-night stay at Foxwoods, a casino located in Ledyard, Connecticut. It was a two-and-a-half-hour drive and we were enjoying the scenery and each other’s company. We fared well at the tables and were in good spirits, listening to the radio and discussing where we should stop for lunch. It was a fun get-away before the rush of Christmas.

The ride was smooth – clear sailing as far as we could see. I was driving at a fairly decent clip in the middle lane of a three-lane highway. As we rounded a slight bend in the road, we were startled to find the traffic had come to a stand-still. My vantage point had been cut off and I was completely caught off guard. Bill yelled “Watch out!” and I slammed on the brakes of my RAV4 hoping to avoid hitting any cars in front of me. In doing so, I swerved wildly and the rear end of my car fish-tailed out to the right. The car was now at a 45º angle. I was able to avoid crashing into any cars in front of me and I struggled to straighten out my car but the guy behind me came barrelling down the highway, slamming full force into the driver’s side rear quarter panel of my car.

Unless you’ve experienced a crash of that magnitude, it’s impossible to describe the impact; I never felt pressure like that before and it’s easy to see how the force could result in someone sustaining severe whiplash, a broken neck or worse. At that moment everything switched to slow motion, like we were floating in space. Acting on reflex, Bill raised his right arm above his head to protect himself.

We glanced at each other quizzically with that WTF look in our eyes as my car rolled over once, twice, three times then landed upright with a mighty thud like a miniature Sherman Tank on the right shoulder of the highway. It’s miraculous that no other cars hit us as we rolled over to the side of the road. How the hell did my car manage to land on its tires? Thank God it did; I can’t imagine what it would have been like landing upside down, the roof smashed in, dangling from our seat belts. What seemed like an eternity probably took all of five seconds. The guy who hit us was stranded in the middle of the highway, the front end of his car smashed in. We learned later that his car was a rental and the driver had no insurance.

Immediately upon settling, there was a tremendous whooshing sound as the sunroof caved in on us; we were showered with fragments of glass, dirt and gravel which the car must have scooped up as it rolled over. The safety glass of the windshield was totally shattered but did not fall apart or crumble into the car, seemingly held together by some sort of invisible industrial-strength tape. My only injury was a whacked left knee, probably because I had a death grip on the steering wheel the entire time. Bill wasn’t so lucky; his raised hand did little to protect him. His head was cut and bleeding and the index finger of his raised hand had a deep gash. His hand had also been badly jammed as we rolled over, sending shock waves of intense pain from his fingers all the way up his arm, into his shoulder and neck.

To say we were stunned would be a huge understatement. This was something we saw on TV; it didn’t happen to us. We became aware of the high-pitched “beep beep” of a tractor trailer truck approaching us in reverse. The truck driver witnessed the accident, pulled off the road and backed up to see if we were alright. Of all the vehicles on the road at that moment, only one person stopped to check on us. Jumping out of the cab of his rig, the trucker told us not to move while he called for help.

Within minutes we were surrounded by police cars, fire engines and ambulances. The doors of my RAV had to be pried open so we could be extricated safely; I was able to walk to the ambulance but Bill was strapped onto a gurney. He was covered with a blanket, still unable to lower his arm. It was a surreal sight watching him being lifted into the ambulance and I heard him yell out in pain as his fingers brushed against the roof of the vehicle. I didn’t even look back at my car as we were whisked away to a local hospital.

After being examined, I was told I had no serious injuries but Bill needed X-rays and an MRI. The cut on his head was stapled and bandaged; his lacerated finger was sutured and placed in a finger splint. The MRI revealed a pinched nerve which was preventing him from lowering his arm. The poor guy was in agony and the doctors talked about keeping him overnight. The last thing Bill wanted was to be admitted to an unfamiliar hospital and he made that perfectly clear to me and the doctors. They insisted he stay for at least a few hours for observation but after that, if they thought he was stable enough for the ride back to New York, they would not keep him against his will. Bill was worried about me but I assured him I was fine. He asked me where my car was and I feebly replied that I didn’t know. That’s when I realized I needed to take action; first on the list was to track down my wrecked car and all our belongings.

I was running on nothing but shock and adrenaline; the only reason I didn’t collapse from the trauma was because I knew I had to get things done. I must have looked a mess with ripped clothes and my hair full of road debris but I didn’t care. It’s amazing what’s important and what isn’t when your back is against the wall; it’s called survival.

The first thing I did was call the police station to find out where my car had been towed; all our luggage, including the money we won at the casino, was in the car along with the usual stuff people keep in their vehicles – everything from important car documents to extra packets of ketchup. Once I found out where my car was impounded, I asked someone at the nurse’s station for the phone number of a taxi company to take me to the salvage yard. When the taxi showed up, I was more than a little surprised to see it was a stretch limo. The driver told me he had a lot of upcoming jobs transporting people to and from Christmas events and he had just picked up the limousine.

When we arrived at the junk yard, I explained to the people in the tiny cubicle of an office who I was and why I was there; I was greeted with shocked silence and slack-jawed expressions. Finally the hush was broken when the manager pointed out the window to my RAV4 and said “You mean to tell me that’s your car? We didn’t think anyone walked away from that accident!”

We walked over to what was once my beautiful car. What I saw before me was a heap of mangled metal and broken glass. Had it not been for my ‘vanity plates’, I would not have believed that was my car. I stared at the wreckage in bewilderment; how were we alive?

Once the reality hit me, my knees buckled and I held onto the car to steady myself. The people from the junk yard gathered several boxes for me and the taxi driver helped me get everything out of the car. He removed my license plates and checked all the compartments to make sure we got everything. I don’t know how much I could have done without him. Satisfied that the car was empty, the driver loaded the boxes into the trunk of the limo and we returned to the hospital.

On the ride back I told the driver, whose name I found out was Yosef, about the accident and that Bill was hurt, unable to lower his arm. Yosef asked me where we lived and how I planned to get home. When I told him I hadn’t thought about that yet, he offered to drive us home. What?! It was almost three hours to New York and another three hours back, but he didn’t balk. He said it was the perfect solution; all our stuff from my car was already in the limo and there was plenty of room for Bill to lie down comfortably on the spacious sofa-like seat in the back.

This man, a total stranger, was willing to wait as long as it took to get us safely home. I accepted his kind offer and slumped down onto a chair in the hospital waiting room. I had to call our sons at home to tell them what happened. They were understandably concerned and wanted to drive up to Connecticut to bring us home but I told them it was all arranged; I just wanted them to stay put and be safe. I didn’t even realize Yosef had disappeared until he returned with a bagel and a cup of coffee for me. I couldn’t believe how kind that man was and I thanked him saying the food would help with my pounding headache. As if by magic, Yosef produced a couple of Advil. I looked up at him and he was smiling, one gold tooth sparkling in the bright hospital lights. At that moment he looked just like a guardian angel.

I must have dozed off in the waiting room. When I woke up I was under a warm blanket, my head resting on a soft pillow – definitely not hospital issue. A bit dazed, I glanced around the room; there was Yosef sitting in the corner, talking on his cell phone. He saw me and gave a little wave. I ran my hand over the blanket, my eyes asking if he had provided it; Yosef smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I silently mouthed the words “thank you” and held my clenched fist against my heart.

I checked my phone, surprised to see that two hours had gone by. A nurse came into the waiting room; I recognized her as one of the nurses who had been taking care of Bill. She asked me to go with her and I followed her to one of the many curtained-off beds in the ER. Bill was lying on his back, his arm still up but bent at the elbow with his bandaged hand behind his head. The doctor explained to me that he gave Bill a strong shot of Demerol and a muscle relaxant. He was able to gently manipulate Bill’s arm into a more comfortable position but he would need physical therapy to gain full range of motion. By the look on Bill’s face, it was obvious the meds were doing their job; he was pretty out of it. The doctor gave me two prescriptions to have filled when we returned home and said that Bill was free to go. He also advised me to get the prescriptions filled as soon as possible; Bill would definitely be needing them once the initial dose began to wear off.

With some assistance Bill was able to get into a wheelchair and escorted to the ER waiting room where Yosef greeted us. It wasn’t easy but we managed to make Bill comfortable in the spacious rear section of the limo; even in his drugged condition he was impressed with the car. There were bottles of water in the mini-fridge and more of Yosef’s blankets and pillows to make the ride home as cushioned as possible. Once we knew Bill was secure, we began our journey back.

Yosef suggested we stop at the nearest CVS Pharmacy to get the prescriptions filled. Since the meds were “controlled substances”, the script would only be valid in the issuing state; I wouldn’t be able to get Bill’s meds in New York – something I didn’t think of. Once again Yosef came to my rescue and we stopped at CVS before continuing our trip.

We rode in silence for a little while, then I thanked Yosef for the blankets and pillows. He said “it was nothing”; he had gone home while I was napping in the ER, told his wife Zeynep what was going on and she insisted he take the pillows and blankets with him. That gave me an opening to find out a little more about this Good Samaritan who crossed my path that day.

Yosef and Zeynep were married for only a short time when the Iraqi Kurdish Civil war broke out in 1994.  He talked quietly about the war and the horrors he witnessed. He swore that if he and his bride made it out safely he would strive to help anyone in need whenever he could. With the assistance of American forces, he and Zeynep were able to escape their town of Diyarbakir in Turkey. They made it to Greece, then on through Italy, France and finally to England where Zeynep had relatives in Birmingham. They stayed in England for several months, then decided to emigrate to The States, settling in Connecticut. The couple found work in a small Turkish restaurant and when Zeynep became pregnant and could no longer work, Yosef took on a second job as a taxi driver. He said they had two little girls – Aiyla and Esana – the treasures of his life.

Just then my stomach growled and I realized I hadn’t had anything to eat all day except a bagel and coffee. Yosef said there was a basket with some food in the back of the limo and I should help myself. Zeynep had prepared black olives, hummus, ekmek flatbread and a thermos of black tea. Yosef said it was the perfect food for travelers – something that was easy to carry and provided sustenance as well as comfort. I sat near Bill and ate my meal with gratitude for this stranger who found me at a time when I desperately needed help.

I asked Yosef what his name meant; he replied “God increases”. How very fitting. He went on to say that Zeynep meant “precious gem”, Esana meant “safeguard” and Aiyla meant “moonlight”. I scribbled everything Yosef told me on a paper napkin. Maybe it was my imagination working overtime or the fact that Christmas was just days away but those names made me think of the birth of Jesus and what Christmas was really all about.

Yosef asked me the meaning of our names; I explained that Bill was short for William which meant “strong-willed warrior” and my name, Nancy, meant “filled with grace”. Yosef thought they suited us; I thought that day they couldn’t have been more appropriate.

The ride was uneventful and time passed quickly. Before I knew it, Yosef had delivered us safely home. Together with the help of my sons, Yosef managed to get Bill from the car into the house. Bill was awake now but groggy and he reached for Yosef’s hand. With a voice heavy with emotion Bill whispered “Thank you for everything”. Smiling, Yosef nodded and wished Bill well.

My sons brought the boxes into our house and I walked with Yosef to his car. I took some money out of my coat pocket to pay him for everything he had done – if one could even put a price on all he did. He covered my hands with his saying “No, please. I did not do this for money. I truly believe there was a reason I received your call for help – to aid you in your time of distress. Seeing you safely home is all the reward I need.” I was overcome with emotion and humility and I impulsively hugged Yosef. I wasn’t at all embarrassed by my actions or that my face was streaked with tears of gratitude.

I croaked out a heartfelt “Thank you, Yosef. God bless you and your family. Merry Christmas”. He smiled and replied “God’s blessings on you, Nancy filled with grace”.

I stood outside my house as Yosef drove away, watching the taillights of the limo disappear down the street. I looked up at the pale moon; to the north was a dazzlingly bright star shining in the black sky.

It was a cold night but my heart was glowing. I truly felt like “Nancy filled with grace”.

What was left of my car

This is a true account of a terrifying situation; we will never forget that accident 20 years ago today. God was watching over us.

A big shout-out to the caring trucker, whoever you are. Huge thanks to all the incredible emergency and medical personnel who cared for us.

Blessings upon blessings forever to Yosef, Zeynep, Ailya and Esana. Yosef – there are no adequate words to express our gratitude. You are a giant among men.

Sincere good wishes to all who read this. May you have a wondrous Christmas!

NAR © 2021

SPREAD ‘EM

Thanks to a similar story by my friend John Holton (see below), I’m submitting this post to Fandango’s One Word Challenge.
The prompt word is “chop”.
I’m also feeling mixed emotions for I see our recently departed friend Hobbo commented on my story when I originally wrote it last year.
RIP Hobbo.

This hairy hand is not mine!

When I became pregnant with my first baby in 1977, my husband Bill and I were over the moon! We were thrilled and dove headfirst into the whole pregnancy phenomenon – buying furniture and clothes and setting up a nursery. At the time I was 26 years old, weighed 105 pounds and stood 5’4” tall.

Throughout my pregnancy I craved barbecued hamburgers, fresh tomatoes and hot fudge ice cream sundaes every day. After nine months, I gained a whopping 72 pounds and at some point had to remove my wedding ring because my fingers were getting swollen.

Who cared if pregnancy gave me cankles and made my fingers swell? It also made my boobs huge and turned me into a nymphomaniac – a little perk my husband didn’t mind one bit! Besides, as soon as the baby was born I’d lose the weight. I thought I’d immediately jump back into my tiny Jordache jeans and halter tops. How naive I was! It came as quite a shock to discover I could only fit into maternity clothes after giving birth. I suddenly didn’t feel quite so sexy anymore!

A couple of weeks after the baby was born, we were invited to a Christmas Eve party. It had been a while since we’d been out so I was looking forward to slipping into my fanciest maternity outfit and sliding my ring back on. I wanted to look pretty and festive and it seemed like a good idea at the time but no sooner was my substantial solid gold wedding ring back on when my finger began to swell. Before my eyes it tripled in size and went from various shades of pink to red to finally a pulsating, throbbing blueish purple. And it started to hurt like a son of a bitch, too.

I immediately ran cold water over my hand but the ring wouldn’t budge. Bill filled a bowl with water and ice and I soaked my hand until I lost all feeling. No luck. We tried scrubbing with lots of soap and water – nothing. We dragged out every sort of lubricant we could think of from WD-40 to KY Jelly to olive oil. We even tried the “string thing” (don’t ask; that’s another story). Bill lovingly suggested I try to relax and take deep breaths while he pulled on the ring. I screamed at him to “fuck off” because “This wasn’t Lamaze Class and I felt like I was giving birth again.” Nothing worked. I was now in agony and convinced my finger would eventually shrivel up, die and fall off. Or even worse, we’d have to chop it off. Neither option was appealing.

There was only one thing left to do. I told Bill to take the baby to the party while I went to the hospital. Hopefully they’d give me a shot to reduce the swelling. When the nurse noticed my maternity clothes, she told me I was in the wrong section of the hospital and directed me to Labor and Delivery. I informed her that I was no longer pregnant and showed her my ever-expanding finger; she immediately dragged me into the ER.

Doogie Howser, M.D. and his assistants took one look at my digit, gasped and scratched their heads, perplexed. When you’re on the receiving end of that horrified reaction coming from professionals trained to remove knives lodged in skulls and vibrators stuck in various body orifices, it’s not a good feeling. Excusing themselves, the doctors stepped out of the room, consulted for ten seconds and returned with the verdict: “We have no choice but to cut it off.”

“MY FINGER??” I gasped.

“No, silly. The ring” they laughed. “We’re going to get Jerry and Ares. If he can’t cut it off, no one can” replied one doctor twittering like a giddy school girl. It took every ounce of self-control to keep from shouting “Shut up, you fucking idiot!”

And who, may I ask, are Jerry and Ares?” I asked through my pain.

Jerry is our top custodian and Ares is the strongest 8” mini bolt cutter in his toolbox.”

That statement was not exactly reassuring.

Within minutes Jerry appeared; a sparkling red tool which I was pretty sure was Ares dangled prominently from his belt. I was also pretty sure Jerry had just smoked a joint but, hey, he was the best and given my predicament, beggars can’t be choosers. Jerry examined my finger, made all sorts of grumbling noises and proceeded to sterilize Ares before he scrubbed up.

At last the moment of truth arrived. Jerry told me to turn my hand, palm facing up and “spread ‘em”. I assumed he meant my fingers and did as instructed. Jerry made the Sign of the Cross, kissed Ares and with the precision of a neurosurgeon gently slid Ares between my finger and my ring.

One loud “snip” was all it took and the back of my ring was cut clear through. Jerry broke out his mini pliers and separated the ring enough to remove it from my finger. We all let out a collective sigh of relief. Tragedy averted.

In case you’re wondering, I never got the ring repaired. It sits in my jewelry box as a reminder that even though something may seem like a good idea at the time, that isn’t always the case.

Ares

NAR © 2021

#FOWCchop

And here is a link to John’s story: https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com/2022/09/17/ring-a-ding-ding-socs/

DOWNTRODDEN

Betsy (middle) and the cotton mill girls
Georgia, 1909
Photograph by Lewis W Hine

Carry myself with pride, as my mama taught me. My name is Elizabeth but everyone calls me Betsy. I am sixteen, pretty and full of life. This is day one of my very first paying job – working in the cotton mills. I’m lucky and oh so grateful.

Mama is home doing chores and caring for my seven little brothers and sisters. Daddy left one day and never came back.

In my lunch sack is bread, an orange and a chuck of cheese. During my break I’ll sit by the banks of the Conasauga River and splash my scorched face. Life is good.

Carry myself with stooped shoulders. I’ve been in the mill for eight months. It’s hotter inside than the blazing Georgia sun. Humid, too, to keep the thread from breaking. Boiled potatoes, cabbage and river water for lunch. I’m sixteen. Maybe I’ll meet a husband here.

Carry myself on leaden feet. I work six days a week, twelve hours a day. I earn $1.00 each week. The air is thick with cotton dust. Nobody talks anymore; we keep our mouths covered but that doesn’t stop the coughing. I have no time or energy for anything else. I’m sixteen and feel like I’m sixty.

Carry myself with doom. I’m coughing up blood now and see nothing in my future except dying in the mill. I think I’ll just walk into the river and never come out.

Carry my dead body to the graveyard. I was only sixteen and my name was Betsy.

NAR © 2021

FOUR-HEADED MONSTER

Famous? Fame was not the goal. Money was not the goal. To be able to know how to get peace of mind, how to be happy, is something you don’t just stumble across. You’ve got to search for it.”

So said George Harrison when The Beatles split up after only eight years – an incredibly short time when you think what a phenomenon they were. As John Lennon once sang: “So Captain Marvel zapped us right between the eyes!”, their music amazed us. It was like no other.

The Fab Four, The Lads, The Mop Tops, The Four-Headed Monster; those were just a few of the nicknames given to the group. They skyrocketed to fame in the U.S. after appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and the following year performed before 56,000 screaming Beatlemaniacs in Shea Stadium. I was there and that awesome day remains one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

Sadly, George and John are no longer with us. Today marks the 19th anniversary of George’s death – stricken by a cancer that ravaged his once healthy and supple body. And John, the peace-loving, anti-war, anti-violence activist, was senselessly gunned down in 1980 by a madman whose name will never cross my lips.

There are no words that can express how deeply The Beatles touched our hearts and souls. We embraced them and their music changed our lives forever. In all the world there is only one group with the word ‘mania’ attached to its name: the greatest band ever – The Beatles!

ZAP!!

The Ed Sullivan Show, 1964
Abbey Road

I tell you, there is no other band,
there will never be any band like them ever,
for eternity. They are the best.
I say to you here in 1965
that the children of 2000
will be listening to The Beatles.
And I sincerely mean that.”
Brian Epstein, Manager

NAR © 2020

RAINBOW BRIDGE

Eric and Sue always knew they’d get a dog someday – not one from the pet shop but a rescue in desperate need of a loving home. When they saw Lily, all chocolatey-brown with big doe eyes, they knew she was the one. She was the sweetest, most gentle dog ever, despite having been abused and terribly frightened most of her life.

Animals know when someone is trying to help them. Lily knew she was safe, happy living in her home on Paradise Place with Eric and Sue. She loved them as much as they loved her.

After six years together Sue noticed that Lily had a little raspy cough and some trouble eating; this worried her. A trip to the vet confirmed her fears; Lily was diagnosed with a rare case of tongue cancer.

Malignant. Inoperable.

How much time?”

Within the year” was the grim answer.

Sue and Eric promised each other two things:
– They would spoil Lily rotten and smother her with love.
– They would never let her suffer or die alone.

The veterinarian decided the best treatment would be medication and radiation therapy. It wasn’t a cure but Lily responded well; she was a happy girl. She loved napping in the upstairs TV room. Upon waking she’d walk to the top of the stairs, stretch and shake her head, dog tags jangling noisily. When baby Julia came along, Lily was so good with her; Eric and Sue never worried when Lily was near the baby.

Eight months later Lily started getting worse. Within days she declined rapidly; she was listless and wouldn’t eat. Eric and Sue were blindsided one morning when Lily began vomiting blood; they knew the end was near for their beloved girl. It’s not like they weren’t expecting this; it just happened so fast and too soon.

At the animal hospital Eric and Sue comforted Lily as the vet gave her a sedative. They whispered loving words and kissed her head. Lily finally relaxed in their arms. Another injection was administered and Lily passed peacefully after just a few seconds.

Eric and Sue were heartbroken. They took the next day off from work to recoup, scrubbing the blood from the carpet and washing Lily’s bed. That night while folding laundry Sue heard a noise upstairs. She thought it was Julia but the baby was fast asleep. Then she recognized the sound: jangling dog tags! Exhausted, Sue knew it had to be her imagination … until she looked at Eric. He was white as a ghost, his gaze transfixed on the staircase. Sue whispered in questioning disbelief “You heard that?!” Eric nodded yes. “That was Lily!”

Logically they knew it couldn’t possibly be Lily but they looked anyway. Then they checked Lily’s leash and collar; of course they were right where they put them the night before. But in their hearts they knew – Lily had come back one last time to her home on Paradise Place to say goodbye and let them know she was ok on the other side of Rainbow Bridge.



Lily

NAR © 2020

ALL ABOARD!

Cattle, not people! That’s what it felt like to me when I was riding the subways of New York City. Just when you think another person can’t possibly fit, at least a dozen manage to squeeze their way in. It’s kind of like the clown car at the circus, only not the least bit amusing.

The first half of my morning commute from New Rochelle in Westchester County into “the city” was quite pleasant. I’d buy a muffin and a freshly brewed cup of coffee at Britain and McCain’s, then hop on the Metro North New Haven line. At the time I worked on Church Street in the financial district of lower Manhattan. The 7:18 AM train was brightly lit, clean, perfectly climate-controlled and the seats were nicely spread out making for a comfortable and relaxing ride. I’d always see the same friendly faces, fellow suburbanites with their briefcases and newspaper tucked under an arm. A nod or a wave was all that was necessary; no need for casual conversation as everyone was looking forward to a peaceful trek to work. It was all quite civilized. It took 40 minutes to get to Grand Central Terminal where I’d then hustle to catch the subway to Church Street.

Grand Central – an awe-inspiring wonder of architecture and one of the busiest terminals in the world – has always been a whirling hub of activity with harried commuters scurrying about like so many little ants rushing to catch their train. Finding a seat on one of the countless subway trains was a continuous battle. Any shred of human decency was discarded at the terminal doors as people trampled each other in the hopes of securing a place to sit or, at the very least, a spot against a wall on which to lean. If you were unable to find neither seat nor wall, you’d have no choice but to position yourself in the aisles where you could hang onto the hand straps suspended from the ceiling or stand shoulder-to-shoulder like disgruntled sheep crammed in a stall with no place to go. And if anyone should stumble and fall, God help them because no one else would! Livestock on the road to the slaughterhouse; is it any wonder so many people were frustrated and disillusioned by their daily commute and in turn hated their jobs?

Most days there were unexplained delays and the 20-minute ride to Church Street took much longer than that. The unvoiced question dangled in the stifling air: how long will we be stuck this time? People would hang their heads in defeat and heave a sigh of resignation knowing they were at the mercy of the subway puppeteers. I stared at this sign for so many mindless hours I can still recite the entire message in both English and Spanish:

For people with claustrophobia, just being underground is a nightmare; similarly being jammed on a subway is a hellish experience, especially in the heat of summer. The worst part was when the train would stall in the tunnel and all the power would go out – no lights, no air conditioning, no nothing – just the overwhelming conglomeration of the stench of body odor, bad breath, urine and other bodily secretions along with the complaining gripes and groans, pisses and moans of those stuck in the train. And as if that weren’t bad enough, you’d suddenly become aware of the alarming feel of creepy, unwelcome hands fondling your ass or some horny pervert rubbing against you – and you were incapable of moving an inch. I recall being frozen in place praying for the lights to quickly come back on and the train to start up. For any normal person, being groped regardless the situation is a humiliating and despicable ordeal; having it happen while trapped in a dark, crowded, sweaty, smelly subway car is indescribably terrifying – enough to put anyone over the brink. I came close to losing it more times than I care to remember. Crying out “Get your filthy hands off me!” would generally elicit snickering, laughing or the occasional tsk of commiseration and disapproval.

That was the typical morning subway expedition; by the time I arrived at the office I felt like I needed a shower. When the workday was done at 5:00 PM, the mass exodus would begin and the subway horror show would start again. It didn’t take me too long to realize I couldn’t endure these conditions indefinitely and I discovered an unusual survival strategy; I started taking the train four stations deeper into the bowels of Manhattan from Church Street to Canal Street, a 10-minute subway ride in the opposite direction from Grand Central Station and further away from the comfort and serenity of the New Haven Line. My reasoning behind this backwards maneuver was really quite simple: Canal Street was the originating point for the trip to Grand Central and I would always find a seat. If I waited to get on at Church Street the train would already be full. I’d head straight for the somewhat secluded two-seater in the corner. I didn’t care how long the trip took, how crowded the train became or how many times we got stuck; as long as I was sitting in the corner I felt safe. I could close my eyes and pretend to be asleep or hide my nose in a book; I finished quite a few chapters on that 30-minute ride while tucked away in those coveted corner seats.

For some reason, though, I would inevitably attract the undesirables. Many a ponderous man would wedge himself into the seat next to me, breathing heavily and reeking of garlic. Why, when there were plenty of empty seats, would I end up with Jabba the Hutt plopping down next to me? I would stay put and do my best to cope with a most unpleasant situation. There was also the occasional sicko (although one is more than enough) who would position himself directly in front of me, his manhood at full attention mere inches from my face. Those were the times I prayed for death. If I could have hung myself from one of the ceiling hand straps I gladly would have done so, drifting off into unconsciousness while visions of Lorena Bobbitt danced in my head. Instead I would prop my briefcase vertically on my lap and hide behind it. By some source of divine intervention the lights never went out during one of those close encounters of the worst kind.

It’s been more than 40 years since I worked in Manhattan; I loved my job and the people I worked with but after seven years I’d had enough of the commute. Kudos to those who travel the trains for twenty or more years; I have no idea how they do it! I don’t miss riding the subway one bit and if I have to go into Manhattan these days, I drive. I’ll gladly take on any maniac behind the wheel of a taxi or a truck rather than deal with the neanderthal subway passengers. I’m just thankful my days of riding the New York City cattle cars ended while I still had my dignity and sanity intact.

NAR © 2020

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20

Did you ever wish you could go back in time to when you were five years old? That’s a reasonable age – old enough to grasp the difference between right and wrong yet young enough to be just a kid having lots of fun; not on the cusp of adulthood so it’s probably a good idea to try not to muck it all up.

If I, a sixty-something-year-old woman could write a letter to my five-year-old self, I might say something like this:

“Hey, you!

There’s a ginormous amount of ‘stuff’ that you’re gonna have to deal with in life so listen up:

• Everything you’ll ever need to know you’ll learn in kindergarten so pay attention.
• Follow the Golden Rule, obey the Ten Commandments and listen to the Beatles because life really is about peace, love and understanding.
• Mom and Dad aren’t the enemy; they’re doing the best they can so cut them some slack.

Right now you’re having the time of your young life. Your days are pretty much planned out. Mom does all the work and there aren’t a lot of demands on you. It’s mostly playing, eating, napping, doing a chore or two, sleeping; repeat tomorrow. Life is good and you’re a happy kid.

Sometimes, though, you’re gonna be so sad all you wanna do is cry and that’s ok; even big people cry. You won’t be sad forever. Other times you’re gonna get so mad you just wanna hit somebody, but that isn’t a good reaction – except if it’s Willie Casa; he’s the bully who lives three houses down. So when he hits you over the head with that plastic gun of his, you’re gonna bop him in the nose. And you know what? He’ll never bully you again.

Speaking of noses, yours is ok right now but in a few years it’s gonna turn into a real honker and you’re not gonna like it. You’ll get teased some and it’ll hurt. But hang in there because the most important guy in your life won’t care about that at all. He thinks you look like Sophia Loren and that’s a good thing.

Mom isn’t comfortable talking about a lot of personal stuff and you’re gonna wake up one morning to discover you’re body’s changing. It happens to all girls and while some of it is pretty yucky, most of it is really amazing. Let’s just say God knows what he’s doing and you’re gonna turn out ok.

When you’re about 13 somebody cool is gonna enter your life, coming and going for a couple of years. He’s a 16-year-old beanpole name Steven Tallarico – Google him. You might feel like kicking yourself because you didn’t run off with him but your whole life would have turned out differently and probably not for the best. Don’t worry. In 1968 you’re gonna go on a blind date and that guy will change your life forever and in the best ways imaginable.

You’re gonna make a lot of mistakes; everybody does. It doesn’t matter who you are in this giant world – you’re gonna screw up and believe me some of your booboos are doozies. You’re gonna hurt people and when the dust settles all you can do is apologize and try to make things right. The important thing is to own your mistakes and take responsibility.

Responsibility. Accountability. Big words with important meanings and so easy to overlook. They’re gonna be important to you and believe me, kid, there’s nothing wrong with that. People won’t always act the way you want them to; try to remember just because YOU think someone should act a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the right way for them. Let it go because it’s wrong to force people to do anything. And don’t let others force you.

Don’t be afraid to smile and make friends but don’t blindly trust people you don’t know. And if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If somebody scares you, scream your head off and run like hell because there are some bad people out there. But there are also a lot of wonderful people and most of the time you’ll be able to see the difference. Sometimes you won’t and people will hurt you. Shame on them! Cut your losses and move on; it’s their problem, not yours.

Nobody’s life is perfect, not even yours. You can own a lot of great stuff but if you don’t have a loving family and friends then you don’t have anything. You will be greatly blessed in more ways that you can count – not by the wonderful things YOU do but by the wonderful people in your life.

Some things I’ve learned along the way:
• Listen to Mom and Dad; they really do know more than you (especially about Woodstock!).
• Go easy with the blue eye shadow; it’s not a great look. And watch out for sloe gin fizzes; they have a way of sneaking up on you and knocking you on your ass.
• Be a friend, lend a hand and don’t judge; you never know what someone may be going through.
• Be respectful – not only of others but of yourself.
• The popular thing isn’t always the right thing and the right thing isn’t always the popular thing. That’s a tough one.
• If you say you’re gonna do something, do it. Be responsible (see above).
• Don’t be afraid to show your emotions and let people know how much you care; it’s how you know you’re alive.
• Be flexible. Things don’t always go as planned.
• You’re gonna have your heart broken more than a few times and you’re gonna break some hearts, too. It sucks but that’s just the way life is.
• Don’t be late. Period. You can’t control the weather or traffic but you can anticipate it.
• Don’t lie or make excuses. Not only does it show poor character – it’s too hard to remember all your tall tales. The truth always comes out.
• Smoking is not cool so cut it out. It’s a disgusting and expensive habit.
• Listen to the Beatles as much as you can; not only is their music just about the best you’ll ever hear, you’ll learn a lot from what they have to say.
• Just be a decent person; it’s really not that difficult.

And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Love, You!”

NAR © 2020

NEW YORK STATE OF TERROR

Death was on Julia Rubino’s mind a lot during 1976.

Automatic nagative thoughts (or ANTS as she called them) started entering her brain months go when she first heard about the mysterious murders in New York City.

The killer openly taunted the police. Seeking misplaced attention and public veneration, he wrote rambling and ambiguous letters to journalist Jimmy Breslin who printed them in his column in The Daily News. In his letters the murderer sometimes referenced a cult, hinting that the killings were a rite of passage. Other times he claimed a demonic dog owned by his neighbor Sam spoke to him demanding the blood of pretty young girls.

All the victims were females with long dark hair; as a college student with shoulder-length brunette curls, Julia felt particularly vulnerable. When she told her parents she wanted to cut her hair and dye it blonde they said she was over-reacting. Julia’s boyfriend Steve told her she was being ridiculous, that there was nothing to worry about. He said they were safe in their little town of New Rochelle. Violent crimes like that only happened in dangerous urban locations, not quiet Westchester County.

At night Julia and Steve often drove to the Glen Island Beach parking lot in New Rochelle; it was a popular make-out place and the police very rarely patrolled the area. When Julia told Steve she didn’t want to go parking any more, he got pissed off. Tearfully she reminded him that the killings always involved two victims – young women and their boyfriends parked in cars. She couldn’t shake the idea that something terrible was going to happen to them. Steve argued that they had no other choice if they wanted to be alone. They had no privacy living at home with their parents and Julia felt going to a motel was sleazy. Frustrated, Steve yelled at her to calm down and get a grip. Afraid of losing him, Julia begrudgingly chose to give in.

On July 29 things took an unexpected and shocking turn; the first murders in Westchester County occurred. This time the killer’s MO was different and left the police wondering if the shootings were done by the same individual or a copy-cat killer. The victims were two girls sitting in a car in a well-lit area – not a girl and her boyfriend in a darkened parking lot. The two women were nurses Jody Valenti and Donna Lauria. They had been sitting in Jody’s double-parked Oldsmobile outside Donna’s house talking about their night at a New Rochelle disco. When Donna opened the car door to leave a man suddenly approached. Pulling out a gun, he crouched down and opened fire. Donna was killed instantly but Jody survived. The attack happened quickly however Jody was able to give a description of the assailant; it matched that of the shooter of the previous killings.

Westchester County residents were panic-stricken, especially Julia. Police urged everyone to stay vigilant and refrain from sitting in parked cars. Julia considered dropping out of college and hiding in her house until the murderous madman was caught; her parents convinced her it was irrational to completely cut oneself off from the world.

For more than a year the killer held the citizens of New York captive but on the night of August 10, 1977 the state of terror finally ended. After a tense shootout the murderer was apprehended at his Yonkers apartment – ironically within earshot of Westchester Community College where Julia was a student.

Today marks the 43rd anniversary of that historic arrest. The notorious killer was David Berkowitz, known around the world as Son of Sam.

Exactly ten years ago to the day. Berkowitz pled guilty to all the shootings and is currently serving six life sentences in Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York.

Authors note: With the exception of Julia Rubino, her boyfriend Steve and her parents, everyone and everything in this story is factual.

NAR © 2020

THE BEACHCOMBER

I guessed that something was wrong as soon as I saw the look of shocked disbelief on my husband David’s face. 

Babe, what’s wrong?”

With tears in his eyes David whispered “I lost my wedding ring!”  

It was our last night in Cape Cod. After dinner we went for a walk on the beach. There was a lot of seaweed in the ocean from a storm a few days before. We walked along the shore, teasing each other with clumps of seaweed; that’s when the ring must have slipped off his finger. But exactly where we had no idea. We crawled around searching but it was dark and we couldn’t see anything. David was devastated. 

“Hon, I know your wedding ring means the world to you but we can always replace it.”   

“I know, Jess, but it just won’t be the same.” 

Dejected, we returned to our room and went to bed. After hours of trying to get to sleep, I grabbed my laptop and Googled “Will a ring wash ashore after falling in the ocean?” 

Almost immediately there was a *ding* on my laptop … a response from “TheRingFinders.com. It read: “We can help find any lost metallic object on the beach or in the water. Enter your zip code and we’ll get back to you ASAP .” 

I entered the zip code for Cape Cod and 10 minutes later I heard from Rick at “RingFinders”. After explaining our situation, Rick said he’d be at our B&B at 7:00 AM to start his search. Thank God for the Internet! 

True to his word, Rick was already on the beach at 7:00. We ate breakfast on the veranda, never taking our eyes off Rick as he searched everywhere with no luck. It was almost checkout time when he trudged up to the B&B.   

No luck, folks. You’re gonna get socked in traffic if you don’t leave now. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I’m not giving up. I’ll keep in touch with you either way.” 

Disheartened, we checked out and loaded up the car. Taking one last look at Rick, we waved goodbye when we realized he wasn’t waving goodbye … he was waving in excitement. He ran up the beach with his arm in the air, hand clenched in a fist.    

I found it, folks! I found your ring” he shouted. 

We ran to meet him and he grinned as he placed a wet, sandy ring in David’s hand.

The ring was under 11 inches of water and seaweed!

Overjoyed, David hugged Rick and we asked how much we owed him. 

“This is a free service we provide but we gladly accept donations” Rick explained. “Its very rewarding to see the joy on people’s faces when they’re reunited with their precious lost items.” 

I don’t remember how much we gave Rick … that’s not important. What I do remember is David glancing at his ring all the way home and smiling. 

What an experience and certainly an incredible act of kindness. Thanks, Rick!

Authors Note: Every word of this story is true and Theringfinders.com is a real organization. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction!

NAR © 2019

FLORENTINE FOOT WASHING

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! 

NAR © 2019

FAMILIAR STRANGERS

Invisible. That’s the first word I thought of when I saw my mother glance over at me. Her eyes were blank, her expression impassive. I was just a face in a crowd; I might as well have been invisible. 

She sat in the middle of the music room of the nursing home, fellow residents all around her as they sang old standards from the 1940’s, members of the blissfully unaware chorus. Noticing an empty chair, I sat down beside my mother and began to sing along to those beloved ancestral tunes carved in her now addled brain. My mother turned to look at me, totally unaware of who I was. She smiled and I smiled back, feeling a pang of guilt for I was simply there doing my duty, fulfilling an obligation … just as she had done all her life. 

In the 58 years since my birth, we were never close … just one of those sadly unfulfilled relationships between mother and daughter. If she ever loved me, she didn’t show it. And I did not love her. Yet here I was. Why?  Was I driven by misplaced guilt … compelled to visit … seeking approval? 

So we sat side by side singing Sentimental Journey and when the song was over my mother turned to me and said “You have a lovely voice. Would you like to see my room?” and I surprised myself by cheerfully answering “Yes!”

Prior to moving into the facility, mother lived in a small house next to my sister. If nothing else, it was convenient. I lived far enough away to avoid any interaction but my sister was burdened for quite a few years caring for our mother – a regiment of one following orders. She tended to her until it became unbearable. Sis decorated our mother’s room in the nursing home with many of her personal effects and furnishings and I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole when I entered her room. I remembered her curtains and matching bedspread, the mirrored perfume tray on her dresser, her tortoise shell hairbrush and comb set and numerous photographs in gilded frames. I looked around as if seeing everything for the first time. Perhaps there was more truth in that than I realized. 

“Come, I want to show you something” my mother beckoned, and she led me to a wall on which hung two identical color portraits –  high school graduation paintings of my sister and me. Mother pointed to my portrait and said “That’s my beautiful daughter, Nancy”. Then she pointed to my sister’s portrait and said “I have no idea who that is”, and she walked away unfazed. 

Why did she recognize my portrait – the prodigal daughter who stood right beside her? How could she not remember my sister? Those questions remain unanswered. My mother passed away shortly after our visit. 

Now that I’m older and infinitely wiser, I believe my mother truly tried her best. And in the end isn’t that all we can ask of anyone? 

NAR © 2019

OP-ED: THOSE LEFT BEHIND

Covered in filth and mange, a multitude of dogs and cats that survived Hurricane Katrina were crammed into military vans. Some had maggot-filled sores, broken limbs and infected eyes that burned like a red hot poker. The vans were filled to capacity and it was impossible to tell one animal from the other. 

Those once long-haired canines with soft billowy fur now resembled stone creatures encased in a shell of thick crust.  Scrawny, flea-ridden cats no longer purred contentedly but howled in fear and pain. The muscular pit bulls were reduced to skeletons, the outlines of rib cages and hip bones clearly visible in emaciated bodies. On and on it went, each animal a mere shell of its former self. 

The catastrophic hurricane had ravaged New Orleans, Louisiana three weeks earlier. The relentless rain caused the levees to burst, resulting in extensive flooding. Home-owners lost everything, all their possessions destroyed. Many scrambled to the roofs of their houses in a desperate attempt to save themselves while others tried swimming to safety. Those lucky enough to own a rowboat floated on the flood waters, dragging people into their boats along the way. 

The president declared a state of emergency and the military arrived .. some say too little too late … but they worked their asses off to bring a sense of order to New Orleans. Non-commissioned officers worked side by side with police lieutenants and fire chiefs. Doctors, paramedics and volunteers all worked hand in hand. The levees were rebuilt and people were relocated. 

However the animals … too many to count …  were forgotten or deliberately left behind in the frenzy. When the waters subsided weeks later, they were found chained to fences and porch railings. Others had climbed up trees or hidden themselves away in the attics of abandoned houses. All were starving, sick, in pain and scared. Others struggled valiantly to survive but failed. 

That’s what the military and animal rescue workers found. Helpless, hopeless animals in need of immediate medical care. Who knows what those poor creatures were thinking as they were being loaded into the vans. Could they sense these people were trying to help them? Were they frozen in fear, traumatized by the events of the past few weeks? 

All the dogs and cats were brought to animal hospitals and makeshift triage centers throughout the state. With the patience of Job, veterinarians … many from out of state … treated thousands of animals, gently cutting off matted crusty fur, administering antibiotics and vaccines, providing food, water and shelter, bringing those nearly dead back to life. If necessary, infected eyes were removed and useless limbs amputated but sadly, in the end, more animals were lost than were saved. 

Is human life more important than animal life? As a reporter, I ask: “If you saw an injured animal lying in a ditch, would you help?” If we choose to believe that a Higher Power created all living creatures in His or Her image, the answer is  easy. 

NAR © 2018

SAVED BY THE BILL

“Well, hello there. I’m Archie … Archie the Armchair. And you? Ah, a pleasure to meet you, Reader. Please have a seat, get comfortable and let me tell you a little about myself. 

My family and I were purchased in 1964 by Vito and Connie Schembre for their new home in the Bronx. Connie kept a beautiful house, immaculately clean upstairs as well as downstairs. Like most Italian households, the basement was where the family really lived … fully furnished with a kitchen, dining area, bathroom and tv section. Connie had a nice sewing room where she spent many hours making costumes for school plays, clothes for her daughters and custom order dresses for a small clientele of local women. 

My parents combined to form one beautiful sofa, my big sister was a loveseat and my twin brother and I were armchairs. Together we were too much furniture for the formal living room so it was decided that I would join the other furniture downstairs in the tv section. Connie enjoyed her rocking chair while Vito preferred stretching out in the plush recliner. Seventeen year old Rosemarie loved her straw bucket chair (a hideous thing!) which meant I became thirteen  year old Nancy’s chair. She couldn’t have been happier; I was a big step up from a bunch of pillows on the floor! 

From my vantage point I could see everything that happened in the basement – Vito listening to opera, Connie frying her tantalizing meatballs every Sunday morning, the girls doing their homework at the kitchen table. I had a front row seat for every tv show the family watched. In fact, the only time Nancy didn’t sit on me with her legs curled under her was when she sat on the floor five inches from the tv to see the Beatles live on the Ed Sullivan Show. 

Oh, the memories! I snuck a peek when Rosemarie made out with her boyfriend Billy Mack. I held back tears when Connie meticulously stitched my torn seam. And I bet I’m the only one who knows that Nancy plopped on me, relishing her Oreos and milk …ON HER WEDDING DAY … IN HER WEDDING GOWN! How I wish I had a picture of that! 

Then the day came that the Schembre’s decided to move to a smaller house upstate. They had too many items for the new place so some things had to go. It was the scariest day of my life. The thought of going to strangers … or worse … being put out for the trash was unbearable. Suddenly Nancy’s husband Bill picked me up and put me in their van. Oh joy! I was going to live at Nancy’s house! And to make the day even better I overheard Nancy and Bill saying that one of Connie’s dear friends bought the rest of my family. They were all staying together!

Now I reside in Nancy’s Beatles Room donning a new beautiful coat of blue leather. And Nancy sits on me with her legs curled under her while writing her stories. I tell you, dear Reader, things couldn’t be better in my life.

NAR © 2018

THE EIGHTH OF DECEMBER

While cradling my year old son in his bed after a bad dream, I sang softly to him my favorite Beatles song, In My Life. He stared up at me, his blue eyes moist with tears. Slowly his breathing became calm and his eyelids began to flutter. At last he was asleep and I kissed his eyes, removing the last traces of salty droplets as I pulled up his covers.

Closing the door gently behind me, I went back downstairs where my husband Bill was watching Monday Night Football. One look at Bill as he sat on the sofa, his head in his hands, told me his team was playing badly. I kidded him about being so serious about a game but he didn’t react. I softly called his name and when he looked up at me there were tears running down his face.

As I sat next to him he turned to me, took my hands and told me that John Lennon was dead, shot on the doorsteps of his home, The Dakota. I stared at him in shock. Why would he say such a horrible thing? Who would ever want to hurt John?

He turned the tv volume back on; the game had been interrupted by the report of an incident involving John. I fell to the floor sobbing as the reporter droned on about ‘rapid gun shots’ .. ‘police/John/hospital’ .. ‘dead on arrival’.

I cried uncontrollably and kept repeating no! no! no! as my husband held me in his arms and I wailed in unimaginable anguish and disbelief. We sat on the floor for a long time, clinging to each other, unable to stop my tears or unhear the words coming from the tv.

At one point my three year old son crept down the stairs, frightened and wondering what was wrong with mommy. My husband quickly scooped him up and returned him to his room, whispering that mommy was very sad about something she saw on tv and she would be ok tomorrow.

But I was not ok the next day. I was not ok the next week. I was never truly ok after that night. No living, loving soul in the world was ever ok again.

These days, almost 38 years later, as I cradle my son’s babies in my arms and rock them to sleep, I sing In My Life and I remember John. 

NAR © 2018

THE WHISPERING COTTAGE

“It’s a nice house, don’t you think, Virginia? The property is a decent size. And the fresh air! Just what the doctor ordered.”  Finding the perfect house for his ailing wife was first and foremost on Edgar’s mind.  

Encouragingly, he continued: “It’s very affordable at $5 a month! One bedroom and a writing niche upstairs and downstairs another bedroom, parlor and a nice kitchen which your mother will put to good use.”  

From their carriage Virginia smiled at her husband, covering her mouth with a  handkerchief as the deep cough began again. Edgar hurried to her side and she stared lovingly into his eyes. “Yes, my dear. I think we will be very happy here.”  

Then it’s settled! I’ll finalize the rental while you rest here.”  Before returning to the cottage Edgar covered Virginia with a blanket to protect her from the cool April breeze. 

Sitting in the carriage with her mother, Virginia gazed at the cottage. “A lovely little home for the three of us, Mother.” Closing her eyes, Virginia pictured their caged songbirds on the porch, a rocking chair nearby where she could rest in the sun and an etched signpost near the door which read “POE COTTAGE”.

**Virginia, I’ve been waiting for you**. Opening her eyes, Virginia asked her mother to repeat what she just said, but Maria assured her she had said nothing. Again Virginia closed her eyes and again she heard the gentle voice in her ear – **Virginia, welcome home**. A strange peace came over Virginia as she realized it was the cottage whispering to her. “My lovely forever home”, she thought. 

They moved in on a beautiful day in May of 1846 and they were happy there. In the evenings after eating a modest meal prepared by Maria,  Edgar worked on his poem “Annabel Lee” while the family cat sprawled across his shoulders and Virginia dozed by the fireplace. But even with constant care, sunshine and fresh air, Virginia’s consumption became worse, her waif-like body wracked with fits of coughing. 

In January Virginia’s health began to fail rapidly. Edgar stayed by her side day and night, reading to her, until at last on January 30, Virginia heard the whispering cottage beckoning her. 

She died peacefully that night in Edgar’s warm embrace as he softly recited

                                 “But our love it was stronger by far

                                  than the love of those who were older than we.”

NAR © 2017