● 1982 – Plastic Star Wars action figure. It was Greedo. He was all green, lost in a green
shag carpet. “I was just holding him,” I said. “He disappeared.” “Green on green,” my mother said. “Yeah, that’s tricky.”
● 1983 – The Derose family next door. One afternoon I tried to push over the wooden post
that held up the “For Sale” sign in their front yard.
● 1984 – Paternal grandmother. Ella. She lost both legs above the knee to diabetes. This
did not stop her from threatening her unruly grandchildren with “a boot in the rear.” The
cousins raced in her wheelchair while she ate pastries with my father and uncles in the
kitchen. She called us “Love.” She died after a major stroke and I was inconsolable. I
had believed in Heaven, but now that someone I knew was there, such a place felt
impossible. Nausea and dread.
● 1985 – Nuclear family as it had been previously constituted. I shot candids and
portraits of my father with an instamatic camera while he packed up his clothes from his
bedroom on the day he moved out. He smiled grimly for me while he sat on the bed and
rolled up a pair of his socks.
● 1986 – Indifference about nuclear war. We stood on a steel catwalk above the main
floor of the boiler room while Mr. Andersen, my sixth-grade teacher, showed us the
“fallout shelter” signs, blue and gold. He said we would still use it in a nuclear
emergency. “All the grownups have jobs to do. Someone will set cots. Someone will get
the food. Does anyone know what my job is?” Mr. Andersen’s voice was a deep growl.
He wore maroon, button-down shirts and pleated trousers. “My job is to count the
people,” he said. His lip curled into a smile. “As you come through the door, I count you.
What happens when we get to one hundred and twenty? Well, that’s it. And what
happens to the one hundred and twenty first person if they try to come in? Well, that’s
another part of my job.” We were rapt as he slowly reached for the waist of his trousers
and folded his hand into the shape of a pistol. He mimed pulling a pistol out of his pants,
and then pressed the fleshy barrel to my forehead. “Bang,” he said. “Sorry, there’s no
room at the inn. Bang.” He had a nice laugh.
● 1990 – Virginity (technically). No one needs to hear more about this.
● 1994 – High School Sweetheart. I drove 500 miles to visit her Boston dorm room from
my dorm room at Kent State. My sweetheart and I spent the day sightseeing and had a
romantic dinner near Fanueil Hall. Later that night, Sweetheart and I held hands and
went to an Italian cafe in the North End. There, right after we missed the last train of the
evening, she dumped me. She was an evangelical Christian and I wasn’t, is the simplest
way to put it. I tried, though. I really tried. But it didn’t stick. I got a speeding ticket on
the way home, on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The ticket cost $90. I visited my
sweetheart a few years later, because I was near her parents’ house and saw her car. We
hugged. She was getting married that year, and I was getting married too. I left after a
half hour. We hugged again and I wonder if I should strike this one from the list, because
it no longer feels like I lost anything at all.
● 1996 – Virginity (definitively). We were friends. I said I didn’t want anything to change
just because we had sex. Six years later I married this person.
● 1998 – Job. I waited tables in a tuxedo shirt and cummerbund at French’s 1844 House in
Canton, New York. Expensive joint, even though the menu offered “Expresso.”
I forgot how to make cappuccino. Sally, the co-owner and front-of-house manager,
mumbled through her teeth that she did not understand why I was so goddamnned stupid.
And she hated my whistling. I replied by whistling as loudly as I could as she stormed
● 2009 – First Marriage. We went to counseling. We read self help books. We did
communication exercises. We harbored suspicions and secrets. I broke a door; she threw
a cooking pot. It was the only time in my life where anger felt like a virus that had to run
its course, and would not respond to any treatment. One night I put my head in her lap
while she stroked my hair and I sobbed. I had not cried like that since Ella died. Anger,
yes, but not hatred.
● 2002-2011 – Hair. It went out like the tide. People make jokes about baldness all the
time. So do I. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me. But since I started shaving off the
horseshoe-ring of hair that remains, I haven’t fully recognized myself in a mirror.
● 2010 – Status quo. Our first date was four hours long in the middle of a weekday. At the
end we kissed on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Bidwell Parkway, and I knew we
would be getting married before I had pulled away from the curb. The wedding was three
blocks away in 2011. We had a son in 2012.
● 2012 and 2014 – Two dogs. Three days before our son was born, Maddy’s back legs gave
out, and then her bladder. She was a fifty pound dog, and I carried her over my shoulder
like a baby into the vet’s office for the last time. Two years later it was Roger, the golden
retriever and dopey light to Maddy’s calculating darkness. He had surgery where they
found out he was worse off than they thought. They called to say he was still on the table.
They could wake him from the anesthesia so I could come to say goodbye. That felt like a
cruel thing to do to a suffering animal. I told them not to let Roger wake up. I decided I
would be the animal who suffered.
● 2015 – Maternal Grandmother. Fran Fusco had Lewy Body Dementia. It came for her
legs first. “I was a walker. I want to take walks again.” I told her I remembered taking
long walks with her in her old neighborhood, how we would stop to listen to the wind in
the trees, how she told me that God would take care of us and we just have to keep the
faith. I struggled to pick her up off the floor when she fell. As her mind failed, I visited her less
at the grotesque warehouses known as assisted living facilities and nursing homes. We
had a last conversation though, when she was momentarily lucid. We faced a window on
a cold and bright day and I reminded her of my life. I told her I was happy and I had a
good family. I reminded her of my son, who she loved, and who is named after her father,
and she smiled. She asked me if I remembered what her husband looked like, because she
had forgotten. She had lost him, too, somewhere in her mind. “He looked just like your
son does now,” I told her. “Oh! That will make it easy to remember. Thank you,” she
● 2016 – Fear. My son is afraid to go to sleep. “My brain is scaring me,” he said. He was
afraid of lightning, of wind, of any adult dressed in a mascot costume. I told him what a
good parent is supposed to say, which is what I learned mostly from watching “Daniel
Tiger’s Neighborhood” with him, which is an underrated parenting tutorial for people of
a certain age. I said, it’s OK if you feel afraid, but did you know there’s nothing here that
can hurt you? Nothing at all. Not as long as your mother and I are here, not one thing. He
kissed me. He crashed to sleep on the Chewbacca plushie he still uses as a pillow. One
day, this boy who loves me so raggedly and unashamedly and who I love the same, will
understand that I am a liar.