When I moved to New York from Germany, I didn’t have words. I had written for prominent papers in Hamburg, but in New York my German faded quickly and English was slow to take its place. After a few months here I found myself close to aphasic. All I had now was a hasty, unhappy marriage and an apartment in Bushwick that was cheap and hot. Through the window bars I could see glimpses of a trash-filled backyard and an alley cat with kittens. During the day I could hear the termites in the backyard destroying the wooden benches that were built by the old German winemaker who owned the [...]
Darlene was a pretty, blond 19-year-old with a 10-month-old baby girl whom she wheeled into my office in a ragged umbrella stroller. Darlene, the baby, and the baby’s father, Keith, had been living with Keith’s parents in a row house in northeast Philly. Keith and Darlene apparently argued a lot, and one day, during a fight about Darlene’s wanting Keith to watch the baby so she could go out with her girlfriends, Keith put his hands around Darlene’s neck and tried to choke her. Darlene had filed in court for and received a protection order to keep Keith away from her and the baby. Keith, in response, had turned around [...]
The bell buzzed. Then again, more forceful this time, and lingering. I woke up; the clock read 12:36. “Someone’s at the door,” I whispered to Joe, who slept heavily beside me. He barely stirred. The buzzer sounded again, and I tapped him. He gasped, awake now. We listened. The buzzing continued, like something broken and angry. Joe got up, crept to his office, grabbed a set of bicycle handlebars. My heart pounded. I took the cell phone, dialed 911, kept my finger on send.
Growing up in Rudy Giuliani’s New York, I’d never been robbed. It wasn’t until college that anything really dangerous happened to me. Senior year, a man [...]
I was 19 when I first experienced sleep paralysis, and that time it took the form of man lying on top of me, so heavy that it was hard for me to breathe. I’d been dreaming of a heritage village in the South Island town my mother lives, a fenced in collection of buildings with a windmill and a cafe and a book fair every year. It was a pretty innocuous dream, at first; everything was sunny and gentle and not much was happening. At the front gates I saw a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a long time, and while I was trying to talk to her I [...]
My brother’s request was simple, his tone firm: We were going out for dinner. I couldn’t recall the last time I ate a full meal, let alone left the house. I hadn’t been to my own home—a six-hour drive north—in weeks. Deadlines passed unnoticed, my precarious writing career in peril.
Everything rested on a fulcrum, the pulse of a 77-year-old woman in a dark room. And that was all that mattered; I was either inside that room, or just outside it.
“I don’t know if I’m doing a good job,” I confessed as my grandmother and I watched the hospice nurse pack up her bags.
“She says she’s not [...]
The scene at Loehmann’s on a Thursday afternoon in early January was both grim and hyper-charged. I was one of a few dozen women who’d been drawn there in a mixture of nostalgia and desperation after the shocking news from the day prior that the chain had declared bankruptcy and would soon be closing its doors forever.
“Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck,” I thought as I ransacked the aisles, which now wore bright yellow signs that said “Up to 70 percent OFF” and “All Stock Must Go.” Though I’d only been introduced to Loehmann’s in my early twenties, it had been the sight of so many victories. [...]
Over the years, I’ve come to see my inherent lameness as a form of ethics. Take, for instance, the bag of Depend undergarments that sat in my closet for nearly a decade.
By age 11, I had read all those Judy Blume books, parts of the Bible, and Carrie, so I knew, seeing the brown stain in my underwear, that I was now initiated into the fraught world of little women. Nothing would ever be simple again. But what I had not yet taken into account was my own mother, a woman that had grown up in post-war Korea and then immigrated to America, the land of milk and Costco [...]
It was the night of my sister Kelly's 30th birthday party, and I was anxious. We’d encouraged guests to come in costume to fit the 1920s theme, and before anyone showed up, I helped my sister into the incredible flapper dress she’d found, beige with sheer paneling and sequins in all the right places. She set her black bob-cut wig and sparkling headband in place, swiped a bold rose color across her lips. I wanted Kelly to love the way she looked, because it was her party, but secretly all I could think about was if I’d look better: he was coming.
We'd been having sexless sleepovers for a [...]
The Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey opened in 1937 and closed in 1990. The 600-acre grounds are dotted by Tudor-style "cottages" that housed up to 55 patients each, which are in turn dwarfed by the larger, looming treatment buildings. "This is the kind of place people were talking about when they said someone had been ‘put away,'" Greg Roberts, chief executive at the hospital for 17 years, told the New York Times as he packed up his office. "For a long time, that's what happened—people were put here and all but forgotten."
Legend has it that the builders approached the owner of a local slaughterhouse, looking to buy [...]
In my family, only one Thanksgiving tradition has stood the test of time and place. It’s not the turkey or the stuffing or even my mother’s famous pumpkin rolls, though if we are lucky, those foods are all there, and they are delicious. It’s not food at all, or the particular array of people present. It’s what happens in the moment toward the end of dinner, once the meal has been devoured and praised, when the coffee is being made and the pie being sliced and doled out onto plates. My dad pours himself another wine—red, of course, "it's good for the heart!" he says—looks at the table in front [...]