Susanna Salk



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Hollywood Assistant
Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

“Josh Land is like a teddy bear with fangs,” Ray handed me cappuccino and escorted me up from Human Resources to my first day on the job back in 1992 at the biggest movie agency in the world. My new boss was one of its senior agents and Ray was a seasoned assistant at the desk right next to the one where I’d be sitting. I tried to take a sip of the cappuccino but Ray stopped me. “Not for you. For him.” He pointed upstairs. We were standing in the cavernous, sun drenched atrium accented with Mies van der Rohe and Cy Towmblys. Dangling above, twirling in the air conditioned breeze was an enormous Calder mobile. The perfect Los Angeles blue sky blanketed the domed glass roof. “Take it all in,” Ray paused.“Because until you leave here, this is the last time you’ll be standing still.” Then we sprinted up the ramped hallway towards the second floor. “My friend Mary over in TV got a urinary track infection because she didn’t have time to pee.” We passed a ladies room door as an assistant was coming out, wiping her eyes with a paper towel. Ray continued past the glass conference rooms, without breaking his stride. “Treat Josh the right way and he’s all hugs. A slip up and he’ll leave you to bleed on the sidewalk while he leaves early to pick his twin girls up from ballet.” “So what does he do again?” I asked, trying not to eye the celebrities- their smaller real life selves- strolling past me like travelers on an airport walk way. “He’s the creative think tank for the agency. They bring him in on the meetings with the older stars who they can’t find work for anymore but love having on their roster. He charms them, sends them scripts that’ll never get made. Only agent in Hollywood who wears bow ties.” We arrived at what was clearly my destination: an empty desk with a computer outside a giant office, its door closed. All the lines on the phone were ringing. I thought about my old office and assistant in the magazine business who I had left behind in the New York. “We basically pay you nothing,” Arlene in Human Resources had told me before handing me off to Josh. “But you’ll learn everything.” A small stickie was on the computer screen with the message: DONT WORK HERE

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

For some reason, every year I found myself checking the New York Times obit pages to see if Nadine had died. And today when I did I saw she had. We weren’t close but in the span of one year- during my 22nd and her 59th- she was my first boss. We shared a spacious office at Conde Nast International: her dominant side with a great glass desk overlooking Park Avenue, my smaller version tucked in the corner, filled by an incessantly ringing phone and a typewriter I slowly hunt and pecked at. It was because I knew the European editor for Vanity Fair from my childhood that impressed Nadine during our interview and smoothed over the current state of my shaggy French she said was “de rigeur”
even though she was American. Nadine was the point person for all the Conde Nast French design magazines: thick, glossy editions filled with homes I would never see produced by people thousands of miles away whom I only spoke to when they called first thing in the morning looking for Nadine who never seemed to be there when they needed her. You could practically see the smoke from the editors’ cigarettes coyly twist out of the land line as they chirped “C’est urgent!” When the publishers called with their clipped “Bonjour,” they hung up as soon as they heard it was me.
And finally she’d arrive, rarely before 10 am, plopping her many leather satchels on top of the stacks of phone slips that curled upwards, already a few hours old. “For the love of god WHO wants WHAT?!” she’d shout while squinting at the message over her tortoiseshell half glasses. “Francois says it’s urgent,” I’d repeat what I had written. She’d toss off her Dr Scholl’s sandals and in manicured bare feet start calling Paris, I’d half listening along as the initial pleasantries would soon percolate into boiling hot words ending in a hang up that rattled the glass on the corner of her desk. Nadine’s French was blunt, but elegant, like her. She was partial to wearing silk pant suits and always kept her many ringed fingers (stack rings from the Greek jeweler Lalaounis) slightly bent like a cat waiting to claw. Part Two:
Nadine was single and like so many successful working women of her generation, without children. Her ex-husband Philip, with whom she appeared still very friendly, would come into our office unannounced, with the humble acceptance of Eeyore. In his 70s, he always wore a suit complete with a pocket square and a heavy camera hung around his neck, hunching him further forward. He was a photographer and Nadine would send him out to scout pictures before he was even finished shuffling into our office. Clearly still in love with her, he did what she asked without complaint. Nadine had gone through many assistants before me and so conceded my flaws with a resigned annoyance like she had mistakenly been given a bad seat at the opera. When I took down a wrong number by a digit, she told me I had hearing issues and sent me off to a Park Avenue specialist who determined after charging me $500 that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my hearing. Sometimes she would treat me to a lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant where we had coupons after she bartered space in one of our regional issues. She’d saunter down the sidewalk ahead of me slightly breathless. “I hope you’re hungry! We have a lot of coupons to burn through!” No matter how much we’d order it always seemed like we could never break even $50. So Nadine would order food for her dog and as soon as we got back to the office she would give it to our lovable messenger Mike, for him to then walk it over to her doorman who in turn, would give it to the dog walker to give to the dog. We all adored Mike. The gentlest of souls, he stood over 6‘6“ and probably weighed almost 300 pounds yet he delivered all of our packages around the crazy New York City grid without fail. A few months after I started my job, an announcement was made that Nadine had been promoted to director of all of Conde Nast International and all of the US editors on our floor would now report to her. This did not go over well, and the floor soon buzzed like an angry UN meeting with overseas calls frantically dialed to complain. Nadine called me into her office and said that I was being promoted to her position. Cont’d Part Three As I walked home to my little apartment on East 76th street I passed the Lalaounis window and bought one stack ring even though I had nothing to stack it against.
That Christmas Nadine used her Doubles Club membership to treat us all to an office party. Some of us had bought Mike a tie to wear to the occasion and were dumbfounded when an hour before the lunch, Nadine had a mystery emergency package she needed Mike to deliver and therefore avoided bringing an African American male into the club on her membership. After the lunch all of the assistants from the Italian, German and French Vogues tearfully gathered in the kitchen where Mike had a stool for his rare down time to await his return. We each had a boxed dessert to give him. I threw out the pretentious meringue in mine and wrote him a note instead. One of the Nadine’s first request as director was to order a modern, red leather chair from Italy so that she could read the different magazines in her kingdom at the end of the day. (“Mais pas trop cherry red!” ) When it was finally delivered it looked about as home as a tropical parrot on an iceberg. I never saw Nadine sit in the chair and read any of those magazines in fact I never really saw her do much of anything when it seemed that she was always in the middle of doing everything.I slowly realized that what had seemed to take her hours of time at her old job, took me less than an hour in my new position. After six months, resistance against Nadine was too strong and we got a notice from headquarters saying how everyone would report back to their bosses overseas. I was called into her corner office where she was sitting in the red chair flicking her stack rings. Her voice slightly quivered as she told me she was getting her old job back. Personnel would help find me a new job at the American editions. As soon as I got out on the sidewalk, I took off the stack ring and tossed it into the trash.

Road Rage
Sunday, June 10th, 2018

It was around the time that this family picture was taken - posed for our upcoming Christmas card - that I used to see her. We had just moved to the lake full time and I was grateful for the faded but cautionary crosswalk that slowed drivers down as my then young boys would hop between our house and our dock. The first time I saw her was early in the morning as she was crossing over the yellow bars to take a look at the view before continuing on what looked like a devoted exercise routine, walking but with a kick in her step. From the distance as I approached, her attractive face looked serene and I gave her a quick wave and turned in my driveway to my busy life where there never seemed to be enough time nor sleep. Later that afternoon on the way to school pick up, I saw her further down on the lake walking with the same intention as she had that morning as though time had not passed. In my rearview mirror I could get a better look at her face which appeared to be fully made up, her bony arms and legs moving like obliging pistons in a well oiled machine. The next day I saw her again in the same outfit walking along the larger road that took me to yoga, Starbucks, CVS. Another night I was coming back from a dinner party and my beams caught a sudden movement along the road. At first I thought it was a deer until I recognized her shape. As my car momentarily illuminated her like a lighthouse beam she continued undaunted. l asked some of mothers gathered after drop off the next morning if anyone knew who she was: many have seen her over the past couple weeks in different places, always walking always alone, but no one knew anything about her. I remembered as a child looking out our station wagon window as a lone figure walked along the park wearing a full ski mask. It was summer. “I heard he’s crazy,” my brother said. “Vietnam.” I hugged my bare arms around myself as I craned to watch him fade. “Be careful,” my mother said but I wasn’t sure about what. The last time I saw her was during a tennis tournament. It had been weeks. I had run into the little bathroom of our club in between sets and suddenly there she was, applying lipstick in the mirror
(Cont’d: ) I could see all of her now up close: the faded nylon of her jogging shorts so worn you could almost see through them. Her legs and arms were brown in the way that suggested unrelenting sun exposure not leisurely tanning. Her eyes were coated in blue eye shadow and mascara and the outlines of her lips were blurred by so much pink. I stopped suddenly, shocked to have her so close, just her and I like girlfriends running into each other on a bright summer day. Her mouth broke open into a smile as though she were expecting me: “Tell me: who is winning?” she asked in a girlish voice, light with optimism. She waited for my answer, blinking, her lipstick poised. Here was my chance to ask her all my questions and yet, I couldn’t answer one single one of hers. “No one…yet,” I said and hurried into the stall.
“Well good luck!” she said merrily. and I could hear the click as she put her lipstick back in its case and then the sound of the door opening and she was gone. Where does she put her lipstick I wondered as I walked back to the match. She didn’t even have water. I lost that day, her voice bounced around in my head like a tennis ball whirling inside a hurricane. I searched the roads after that, expectantly at first as if she owed me her presence, then longingly then despairingly until my life coaxed me back into its demanding folds until she too became a memory. She had been removed from our landscape the way deer hit by a car are one day: at first a sorry accident, the next day their body a cautious reminder to slow down…. until one day gone and forgotten. “Whose job is it to remove the hit deer from the road?” my boys had asked me. I wasn’t sure. And now, after this week of so much unexpected loss, I want to shout: Why had none of us ever slowed down long enough to even ask her: “How are you?”

The Bureau
Friday, May 25th, 2018

It’s these kind of soft spun spring breezes bearing bird song and tipping bushes heavy with lilacs that make me think of Cindy’s room. It didn’t resemble a college dorm room the way the rest of ours did.
It had a metal cafe table with matching pair of chairs like you see in Paris gardens and a large mirror with a circular gold frame had banished the brown rectangular one that came with the room. Her bed was all pillows: two decorative pillows you’d find in a real home neatly propped against large floral shams that in turn were in front of neat white square pillows that always seemed freshly pressed. My two yellow pillows looked like I had brought them straight from summer camp and bypassed high school to arrive just down the hall from Cindy. Her door was always just open, just enough so you could see that a fresh bouquet of roses had been placed on the cafe table, replacing the ones from the week before. No one had ever sent me roses. And if they had I certainly didn’t own the kind of tall vase in which to put them. I owned some clothes, a typewriter and a warped bedside bureau which I lugged from my childhood room with me, to prep school, to this my final year of education, painting it whatever happened to be on hand when it needed freshening. It was filled with letters and mementos from friends, family and boys (even a few men) and all the magazine ads that inspired me that I had been tear sheeting from Vogue and the New York Times Sunday magazine since I was ten. I guess you could say that the bureau was my vase. Weeks before graduation, it was stuffed with a rich variety I had plucked from my four years at college: notes for the creative honor thesis I had been chosen to write, play programs for the shows I had acted in as my unofficial major, match books, photos curled at the edges of my best friend Holly and me on the beach in Martha’s Vineyard during a debauched summer of waitressing and driving her father’s truck barefoot. The bureau was testament that my life was young and thriving and messy with potential.
And here I was, cresting the wave of my senior spring with Laird, who had started out as a friend and then bloomed into a soul mate. We had careened those last few months from party to classroom to every cranny of our shared scenic campus with a kind of fervor that was fueled by the unstoppable belief that we were special, as though draped under a great cloak that we both held high yet protectively above our heads. I was so intoxicated by our power that I started to not see the signs of little tears forming around its majestic edges. The first warm April night outside Laird and I ran across the hills behind the quad that were dotted with thousand of sprung daffodils. There were so many, it was almost impossible not to step on their fragile bent heads but we tried, giddy with the task. It was so late when I returned to my dorm that the usually raucous hallway was entirely dark. Only Cindy’s door was ajar, a triangle of light almost as alluring as the moonlight had been outside. I didn’t know Cindy at all: she was a sophomore and who had time for sophomores? Sometimes I caught a glimpse of her long blue black hair in the shower when I went in to brush my teeth, its sleek beauty reminded me of both a seal and a siren. One time we passed each other in the hallway as she was carrying a bouquet of fresh roses in to her room while I came out of mine, holding a broom, having tried to rid the dust that constantly gathered under my bureau. We scurried past one another, giving a quick nod as if we worked in some royal household. But tonight I felt as if I needed to connect with Cindy, if only to reassure myself that the rest of the world was still spinning and that my good fortune within it did have a context. She was brushing her hair and turned almost as if she was expecting me. She waved with her brush for me to enter. In her domain now, I was struck by the fresh force of beauty and it gave me pause. She gestured with her brush for me to sit at the café table that contained a neat stack of paper. I felt like we were meeting for an ice cream sundae on a double date. “I hear you’re a fast typist,” she said. “I manage,” I said still not sitting.
“Well,” said Cindy unplugging a flat iron. “I am slow as shit. And this is due by eight AM.” She picked up the paper stack filled with her slender handwriting. The roses on the table quaked. I knew where this was going: occasionally people had asked if I would type for them and I always said no. “I’m fast,” I explained, feeling suddenly like the ice cream parlor was a courtroom. “But I make tons of errors.” But Cindy was already opening a long leather wallet and pulling out some cash that looked as ironed as her sheets. “Will one hundred work?” I was broke. My small allowance for this last month of school had already been spent and I longed to buy some new earrings to wear at the graduation party my parents were letting me throw for my friends in the Shakespeare Gardens.
“You mean tonight, right now?”
As she handed me her paper I could see her breasts through her T-shirt nightgown. Their enormity were much more legendary around campus than my typing and thinking of this made me smile which she interpreted as consent.
“Just slide it under the door when you’re done. Like by 7:45. AM.”
I never pulled all nighters. I was an eight hour sleep kind of girl even at my own slumber parties but tonight I put the typewriter on the white bureau while I sat in bed to give myself the illusion of repose while transposing Cindy’s paper. Somewhere by page two I came to the realization that I couldn’t just dismiss Cindy, that her analysis of Anna Karenina was compelling enough that I began to enjoy it as a reader and forgot my role as detached typist. By six in the morning I was done and slid it under her door. The next evening I was dancing with a group of friends and Laird when Cindy stormed into our circle. At first I thought she was joining us until I could see that her mouth was moving rapidly at me. “It sucked!” she called out like a greeting.
“It was actually excellent!” I countered. “You write so well-“
“Your typing sucks!” she yelled, just as the Chaka Kahn chorus ended. “I want my money back.” I had already spent the one hundred on a pair of earring at the one jewelry store in town and the change for beers tonight.
Laird stepped in like the county sheriff and handed Cindy two fifties. His grandmother had recently passed away and he had come into a great sum of money which had both enriched and paralyzed him.
As it got warmer, Laird’s grip on our cloak seemed to get looser until suddenly one day he just let it- us - go.
There was one week left before graduation. I had nothing to do but smoke and sleep and slide reams of outraged letters under his door as if in direct response to the negative chain Cindy had somehow started. When my words went unanswered, I begged his best friend to tell me Laird’s whereabouts: I had to see him in person. His eyes looked down and he said “Alumnae House.” This was a grand hotel and restaurant just off campus where my Grandmother, an alumnae, (as I would be soon) liked to go to have hot fudge sundaes with her white gloved classmates.
I approached the porch, the insides glowed with good times. In old sweats and unwashed hair I hovered in a lilac bush, waiting, feeling like I was not part of the living. The lilac smell was so thick I rubbed a blossom across my neck in case I encountered Laird. The purple undersides were already turning brown. The door then opened: a swell of laughter until a couple strolled out and then it was just the two of them, embraced by the soft spring darkness. I could see the distinct curtain of her long blue black hair as it joined the night and swell of her chest. She wasn’t touching Laird but they might as well have been lying on top of one another. I let the bush fold over me protectively as they passed close by. I walked back to my dorm and took the elevator to the third floor, too tired to walk. My room was at the end in the tower and now like a tunnel, I could only see my door at its end. I entered my room and looked out the window. My family was arriving the next day. I could already see my grandmother smooth down her skirt as she exited the car. This seemed more her place than mine now. I’d stare down at her head, all of their heads, like a bird flying above, unsure where to land. But first, I slipped my new earrings into the bureau.

Making Arrangements
Monday, May 14th, 2018

Right after college, a boyfriend hooked me up with one of Manhattan’s first star florists. I loved flowers and needed a job and as a favor to him, Carla hired me without even meeting me. Her tiny Upper East side shop was crowded with finches chirping inside faded Victorian cages, Oscar Wilde-worthy ferns, hundreds of paper whites, orchids and tulips, Mozart wafted from unseen speakers.
I was instantly enchanted but the fairy tale setting was soon shattered when Carla - part Blanche du Bois and part Fran Drescher- shouted from the back for someone to answer the god damn phone. I picked it up and gamely exclaimed: “Marla’s Flowers! “Toooo nice!” Carla shouted still unseen. “Hello?” purred a girlish yet aristocratic voice on the other end. Carla finally poked her head out of her nest-like office, the stub of a joint clasped between her teeth and gestured asking who it was.
“Who is calling?” I said in a tone which I hoped sounded less polite.
“Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.”
I mouthed dramatically who it was and handed her the phone but Carla waved it away and whispered. “Ask her what she wants.” It turned out Jackie wanted some flowers for a party at her apartment but wanted to be sure “it didn’t cost more than a car.” Clearly they had history.
It wasn’t long before I witnessed why Carla could charge what she did: she could make red carnations look sexy and, with one fell swoop of her sheers, cut thousand dollars of white tulips to the nub, plunking them effortlessly into a vase with a sly grin. “A bouquet is like a home,” she’d say over her blue glasses that swung forgotten on ribbons around her neck. “They should have secrets and mysteries.” We’d jump into the back of a van driven by her model-gorgeous husband and careen up Park Avenue to deliver to some of the poshest addresses in the city. I had never seen apartments like this: they stretched entire floors, had Titantic-sized staircases and were anointed with sumptuous velvets, chintz, tassels like frantic exclamation points, gleaming kitchens bustling with staff and hostesses the size of Twizzlers who greeted us in pressed jeans and Chanel jackets.
We went to Trump Tower once after a woman called - she had a read a profile on Carla in W- and asked if we’d decorate her Christmas tree as a surprise for her husband when he came home from a business trip. I put my hand over the phone and whispered to Carla how much it would be. “We don’t DO Christmas trees!” she puffed back. But the woman wouldn’t take no for an answer and to get rid of her, Carla quoted $10,000. The woman accepted without a hesitation. Once the word got out that Carla did trees, the phone didn’t stop ringing. We did a tree for a widow on Sutton Place and, as the coup d’etat, wrapped her mink coat around the base. The shop phone kept trilling like one of the finches. “I’m not heeeere!” Carla wailed. We went to a famous philanthropist’s apartment and filled it with dozens of arrangements that made the ones at the Metropolitan Museum seem like FTD. I snuck a peek at the calligraphed place cards in a dining room: “Henry Kissinger” was seated next to “Nancy Regan.” I touched the gilded tip of the chair and imagined it being held for me, while Nancy and Henry jockeyed for me to explain my senior thesis topic one more time. I imagined tucking the napkin the weight of my bedspread onto my lap, gazing at the massive white lilies and being served. But we were ushered away by the butler and down the service elevator we went. The shop van was gunning outside like a getaway car, its exhaust smoke mixing with the joint Carla’s husband already had waiting for her. As we sped away I recognized one of my parents’ friends entering the building. I was about to wave but it was too late. We were off to set up for another party and their evening was just beginning.

Stolen Plums
Saturday, May 5th, 2018

This is just to say I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox…” I thought of that wonderful William Carlos Williams poem as I trespassed onto someone’s boat house property this afternoon. I’ve passed it dozens of times over the years: either by boat, car, bike or foot. I always admired its patrician stance on the water: large yet unaltered despite the recent flurry of gussied up structures now the majority. To me it still stands as queen. Today I meant to pass it as I always do and yet for some reason as I neared it, the poem came into my head. Beckoned me to slow down…stop and consider its possibilities. And like opening the refriderator door, I opened the gate (actually jumped over its unimposing low posts) and went down the old stone steps to finally have a taste. Like a house being empty and free of witnesses, so too was the lake deserted this time of year. In a matter of days the abandoned nature of the boathouse would bloom with summer traffic and visitors, the gate opened dozens of times a day by its actual owners. But for a few minutes, it was mine to love. And I how I loved this family just by the clues they left unknowingly everywhere. I peered past a Wacky Pack sticker placed on a window to see inside: what glory! Old college flags hung down from the ceiling, above fantastic high backed wicker chairs; license plates hung next to a President Ford 76 bumper sticker… a sign saying Cuba was near I ❤️ NY. A generous stone fireplace didn’t need a fussy log basket or an arranged mantle: it knew its role. A small unplugged white refrigerator with a magnetic bottle opener clamped to its side felt as familiar as a favorite cousin. Like every great poem, the room felt instantly recognizable to me even though I was a stranger. How I longed to open the doors and witness every decade as it had so generously hosted the family, for better for worse, along the thread of its life. There was nothing special about this room and yet, like a perfectly fresh, cold plum, it was remarkable.

Ready To Receive
Saturday, May 5th, 2018

Every summer Gray announced his arrival with a phone call wrapped in a Southern accent as velvety as the scotch and pot he took like vitamins: “Tell me: who died while I was gone?” He was in his 60s and I in my early 40s so our perspective of time was completely unaligned. But we were bound as fast friends from the moment we were introduced as tennis partners. Every July Gray rented the cozy cottage on Rose and William Styron who lived near me. The rest of the year he lived on the Upper East side in a rent controlled apartment I imagined to be filled with perfunctory furniture and wiring. Gray leased a Rolls-Royce for the country months and when he picked my best friend Holly up at the bus station (insisting, because while never having met her he already loved her from my stories of our shared childhood) he asked her to help him find the high-beam switch so he could navigate them back to me through the unexpected summer fog. Gray loved women in all their glory and girlfriends with names that sounded and bloomed up everywhere like meadow flowers and clung to him like vines, seemed to understand that his love for them was the very reason he couldn’t commit to any of them. One night on the phone together while opening up a box of spaghetti as my kids watched Sponge Bob, I listened to Gray rhapsodize about Marilyn Monroe (who had lived nearby when married to playwright Arthur Miller): “She loved to love!” he drawled and I knew it was his biggest compliment. The driving force behind Gray’s day besides cocktail hour was arranging tennis games. You got a call Monday morning to find out your availability throughout the week via a dusty landline and the matches were then noted on a hall calendar you could tell wasn’t used for the rest of year. A mixture of people were gathered: seniors, teenagers, locals, New Yorkers, producers, writers, someone’s mistress. The mossy courts of the Styrons was our salon and Gray presided over us all in his faded whites and mildewed tennis towel. At the end of one summer I presented him with a fresh towel with his name in simple monogram. “ I will use this,” he said, holding on to his “I” like he was pulling honey apart. On the court Gray and I had an unspoken alliance that we always played together. We relished in strategizing our often impossible odds at victory. One match we were down 5-0 and fourty-love with our opponents serving. I turned to him and said “Do you think anyone in the history of tennis has ever come back to win from our current situation?” “I’m not sure,” Gray said in his thoughtful drawl. As I walked to net I could hear him roll out a series of farts and we began to laugh so hard we had to sit down flat on the court before we could continue. We didn’t win but we won the next four games. The only time we didn’t play together was the morning I arrived to see Daniel Day Lewis climbing off his motorcycle and casually pulling a racket off the back. “Good morning everyone,” Gray said striding up behind him. “Susanna why don’t you and Daniel face off against me and Rose.” Daniel played with the elegant ferocity of a ballet dancer. At one point he and I rushed net and I looked over to see him soaring up like an eagle to get an overhead. I wanted to pause and freeze this moment forever. Most especially because he was upstaged by Gray’s sly smile, so happy to give me this moment and as always, ready to receive.

The Face Book
Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

My brother just unearthed our grandfather’s The Harvard Freshman Red Book from 1936. It wasn’t called The Face Book yet but it did showcase the Freshman class’ male faces: my grandfather’s freshly shaved one gleams above a jaunty grin and striped bow tie. I remember posing for my own Freshman class look book for high school. I had thankfully transitioned from glasses to wearing contact lens just days before but my teeth still held vestiges of a permanent (for another year) bottom retainer- as if my early teen hood self was playing a prank on the older one desperate to emerge. My Grandfather had gone to the same prep school and growing up I had heard stories of how he commandeered that campus as if mayor of his own private town. Here I was following a few decades later on a campus now coed. I waited in a line full of Freshman to sit down on a box in front of a white screen. I had carefully chosen a striped sailor shirt over khakis and espadrilles with a slight heel and as I approached I suddenly felt as if my clothes were meant for another body. The It Freshman girl Clare, was finishing having her picture taken. “Beautiful!” the photographer exclaimed as the flashed popped. Clare had a timeless beauty and a smile that rolled off her face like summer rain on a warm roof. As I stepped aside almost deferentially my heel caught. Clare grabbed my elbow and righted me. She was wearing a faded Grateful Dead T-shirt over a peasant skirt with the same grace and poise as if it had been an evening gown. I was too surprised to thank her and sat down on the box. “Smile!” said the photographer. My lips refused to part and reveal the small metal bar my orthodontist had positioned in with a satisfied snap. “Stripes!” The photographer then exclaimed, and indicted the horizontal ones of my shirt for what reason I couldn’t tell. In the distance I could hear Clare’s easy laughter and I wanted to hold onto to it the way we used to grab on to a T Bar as kids to be whisked up a steep ski hill. My tongue ran along the brace bar that held my teeth in place as if considering my options. Before my lips parted, I could already see my image placed on a page and the page viewed, then turned.

Tree Sick
Friday, April 6th, 2018

I used to drive by this tree all the time on the way to take my kids to school. I was impressed how close it was to the house and the country road but more importantly how old and grand it was, how it liked to show off all the seasons in its many fans of branches while still humble in its location: vulnerable to traffic, yet a potential threat to a roof. One winter morning I pulled over to capture how perfectly every branch was so evenly draped with newly fallen snow. I shared the picture on Facebook and then I deleted it, as I keep my camera roll highly edited.
Eventually I stopped driving by the tree as my children graduated. So it seemed sadly coincidental that I happened to drive by it again exactly as it was being cut down. I gasped and began to roll down my window to ask the cutting crew why, as the tree looked so healthy but what did it matter at that point and would the answer have really comforted me? Traffic urged me on and there was nothing I could do except try to steal one more glance of its branches in my rearview mirror. Were there new owners in the house who did not want to risk its proximity? I would’ve welcomed its sweet shade, and considered the very fact of its many years on this earth a balm during turbulent times. Later that afternoon when I drove back past the tree I was sickened to see how much of the stump remained, how ugly the humans had left it. I dreamt that night that I was lifted high in the trees’ branches to scream at the couple in bed through an opened window but no sound came came out from my mouth. Today for some reason, I pulled over. I thought back of the tree on that snowy day and my boys snuggled in the backseat, the world where it should be. I took the picture of the stump, willing it to feel reverential not expository. Willing every fiber of my being for the tree to understand why I had come back and how truly sorry I was. The owner saw me and came walking over from the back yard and I quickly drove away. For if he asked me what I was doing there how could I ever begin to explain?

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Shoveling snow today, I suddenly thought of them, two college seniors digging their car out from the aftermath of an unexpected blizzard one Sunday morning. They weren’t really my friends. But there I was one winter morning in an unfamiliar Manhattan borough depending on Nick and Joe in their vintage overcoats and converse high tops (sharing a Marlboro) attempt to dig out their car so we could get back to campus in Poughkeepsie. Our mutual friend was a senior named Caroline. Even taller than me with bright blonde hair, her raw energy demanded connection and she was feared and loved in equal parts across campus and somehow had chosen me as her Freshman lady in waiting. She and I had spent the night in search of a party but in the blizzard’s onslaught we were too short on cash and our heels too high to make it. My head was bent so low against the wind, my chin touched the frozen zipper of Caroline’s shaggy chic coat I had borrowed. Sensing my defeat, she stole some string cheese from a convenience store and handed me a stick. “Fuel,” she said and began to do a Tina Tuner impersonation in the middle of Third Avenue. We sought shelter in an apartment of a friend of hers nearby. She rapped loudly on door and it buzzed opened with the enthusiasm of a dying insect. The dark, dank hallway made me want to go back outside but I followed her singing like a flashlight. There was a shower in the kitchen and Caroline hopped in and faked a strip tease until even I felt festive. Nick and Joe were there and offered us a ride home the next day. Where did we spend the night? I don’t recall but eventually there we all were in their car, barreling down the Taconic in the blinding sunshine of the new morning toward the safe grid of Vassar’s campus. As Nick drove, Joe passed him some deodorant and he gamely applied it one handedly. I turned to Caroline, eager for her make one of her perfect jokes but she was watching the city retreat out the window her face gone uncharacteristically soft. “I’m not going back,” she said. “City sucks,” I told her, thinking of my Russian literature homework. “No, school,” she said. And from the depths of her pocket handed me the last of the cheese.