Torn Between Two Lovers

This is serious. I’m having a relationship crisis, and I don’t know how to handle it.

I’ve never felt this way before.

As many of you know, I’ve been in love with the same man for more than twenty years. He’s an amazing guy, and he gives me everything I’d ever need. He makes me laugh so hard I had to institute a “no talking while I’m drinking” rule so I’d stop snorting coffee out my nose. But he’s more than a great joke, well delivered. He engages my mind in unexpected ways, making me care about things that would be so easy to dismiss. He inspires me to be a stronger woman, a more engaged parent, and a better steward of this world we all share. I can honestly say I’m a better person because of him. And there’s no one I’d rather have supporting me through a crisis. He always knows exactly what to say, the perfect blend of kindness and clarity. He soothes my spirit, eases my grief, and gives me hope in even the darkest of times.

Is that a giant sword in your hand, or are you just happy to see me?

You can see why I love him so much. Anyone with a lick of sense would.

I thought my feelings for him would never change. And I suppose they haven’t, except

Except someone new came into my life a few months ago. I’d met him before, but I never had any reason to spend time with him until this summer. He was just a casual acquaintance, a friend of a friend. I liked him well enough, but I’d never thought of him in that way, you know? Not until I started seeing him every day. And now …

Man, this is hard. I never imagined finding myself in this sort of situation. I’m not that kind of girl! At least, I didn’t think I was. But this new guy, well … I just couldn’t stop myself from falling in love.



Quick-witted doesn’t begin to describe him; his mind works so fast it creates a slipstream that sucks in everyone he meets, making them sharper and funnier just by virtue of proximity. I’ve never met anyone like him before. He’s so ridiculously talented that he deserves to be arrogant or at least a bit proud, and yet there’s not an ounce of conceit in him. He’s the first to poke fun at himself, the first to offer some self-effacing quip that has me laughing my head off even as I’m falling more deeply in love with him. Plus he has this amazing English accent that makes me swoon every time he opens his mouth.

Ugh, what am I going to do? I never meant for this to happen.

My only consolation comes from knowing I’m not alone. I can’t be the only one going through this right now. Surely there are others who, like me, are completely conflicted about the return of Jon Stewart to The Daily Show tonight.

Haha, you thought I was talking about a real guy, didn’t you? (Not that John Stewart et. al. aren’t real. This is The Daily Show, after all ... not Colbert.)

Yeah, because the consideration of infidelity is totally something I'd confess on my blog. Mmkay.


When I first heard Stewart would take a break from the show this summer to film a movie, I admit I was disappointed. I’ve watched him for nearly two decades now, all the way back to his early days on MTV. Still, I knew there was (and is) an entire cast of talented writers and producers who make The Daily Show the stimulating piece of infotainment it is today. I wasn’t worried about the quality or content changing. I just thought the show might lose some of its comedic punch without Stew-BEEF at the helm. And when I heard John Oliver would be taking over, I got a bit nervous.

Don’t get me wrong — I love John Oliver. Anyone who’s read my book knows I’m a sucker for English guys. And anyone who’s met my husband knows how much I enjoy a man with a big ol’ schnoz in the middle of his face. (You know what they say about guys with big noses, right? The bigger the beak, the larger the … Breathe Right strip? Not sure where I was going with that ...)


Sexy! You got a license for that thing, buddy?


Moving on …

I think John Oliver is abundantly talented, and I was looking forward to watching him host the show. My only fear was in the delivery. Here's why:

The Daily Show works best when pointing out hypocrisy, whether in politics, media, or America in general. At their core, successful segments more or less consists of the same three parts:

1) Here’s what’s happening,

2) Here’s why it’s so ridiculous, contradictory, and self-defeating that it’s funny, and

3) Aren’t we silly to elect these clowns/put up with this poop?

It’s a proven formula, and I didn’t want them to change it. But I was afraid the last part, when voiced by a Brit, would come off less as “aren’t we silly” and more like “you are all so fucking stupid.”

Hear ye! Hear ye! Americans don't do irony!

While it’s never easy to hear the hard truths about one’s country, hearing them spoken in a foreign accent can be downright demoralizing. It might make some people feel a bit, well … defensive. It’s like when your younger brother gets threatened at school — you know very well how evil the little soul-sucking demonspawn can be, but you don’t sit back while some kid beats the stuffing out of him. That’s your job.


He started it, Mom!

As it turned out, my fears were groundless. John Oliver was perfectly humble, with a swift sense of humor that’s as clever as it is unassuming. Sure, he was a little stiff during his first few guest interviews, but he quickly hit his stride. His final week more than proved he has the chops to host his own show. He pulled no punches with Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), grilling her about the conflict of interest inherent when those in charge of reforming the financial industry owe their position to campaign contributions from the very institutions most in need of regulating. From the show on August 8:


You were the number one recipient of money from Goldman Sachs from 2011 to 2012 for all sitting congressmen. JPMorgan was your number two corporate donor over the last five years. What I deeply want to know is … what do you have to do for that? What is required of you for that money? […] Are there opinions that you have on Wall Street? Do you get the money because you already have those opinions, or do you need those opinions to get the money?


Rand Paul (R-KY) was on the show the next night, and Oliver did a good job of keeping the conversation focused on the Affordable Care Act (and the many times Congress has unsuccessfully attempted to repeal it). It was a refreshing change, as the non-fake news programs seem far more interested in speculating over the senator’s 2016 presidential aspirations than anything else. (When they’re not educating us on the Very Important News of Miley Cyrus twerking for Beetlejuice, that is.) 


Reports indicate over a thousand people, including 426 children, were murdered in the mass poisoning in Damascus last— oh, wait! Look! Disney kids behaving badly!


Oliver’s penultimate interview with Regis Philbin, followed by Simon Pegg on his final night, were shining examples of how comfortable he’d become in the host's chair. He did a fantastic job this summer, but that only makes it harder to say goodbye.

And that’s why I’m so torn up, y’all.

What started out as a summer fling has turned into something I never want to end. I tell myself it’s wrong, that I have to let him go. Yet how can I just walk away after everything he’s given me these past few months? Seeing him around the studio will be torture. How can I pretend it never happened, that he means nothing more to me than any of the other correspondents, when my heart aches for the times we were together?

Yet how can I betray my first love? He was only gone a few months; I’m sure he never expected me to stray. It was the furthest thing from my mind — I actually believed his absence would bring us closer, in the end. And I guess it did, because I still love him. I missed him when he was gone, and I’m glad he’s coming home. It’s just that … there’s no way things will ever be the same. Because there’s no way I’ll forget my summer romance.

Why, oh why, can’t I have them both?

Won’t someone please tell me what to do? This is killing me.




PSA (subtitle: Why I Suck at Life)

I was hard at work Friday afternoon, building my author platform (which is code for screwing around on Twitter), when my neighbors phoned. I’ve only known Wendy and Dave for a few years, but they seem like genuinely nice people — always willing to lend a hand (or a garden tool), and friendly without being intrusive or pushy about it. In short, they’re the perfect neighbors for someone as sociopathic introverted as me.

Wendy and Dave had gone to San Antonio to celebrate their 20th anniversary, leaving their two daughters, 11 and 5, at home with family friend “Aunt” Sally for the weekend. Wendy said her eldest daughter, Zoe, had called them because Aunt Sally had gone to take a nap a couple hours ago and wouldn’t wake up despite repeated efforts from the girls. I ran to her house and found Aunt Sally (a young-looking 52) in bed, not breathing. Her eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling, and there was a foamy discharge around her mouth, like toothpaste bubbles that had popped and dried. Dave had been trying to call 911 from San Antonio, and I grabbed their portable phone and did the same.

It’s hard to describe how chaotic everything felt in that moment. I’d only been in Wendy and Dave’s house once, a couple years ago, and I’d never been upstairs. Just trying to find their bedroom was like stumbling through a pitch-black maze, and simple things, like locating a light switch or operating a new phone, seemed inordinately complex. I had my cell phone (with Wendy still on the line) held to one ear, and their portable phone with 911 to the other. For a couple minutes, I was nothing more than a conduit. I channeled questions I couldn’t answer (house address, Sally’s age, medical history, etc.) from 911 to Wendy, and then parroted her answers right back.

The 911 dispatcher told me I needed to get Sally on her back and onto the floor right away. The chaos factor had somehow tripled by this point: Wendy is crying in my right ear, 911 is feeding me instructions in the other, Aunt Sally’s hyperactive poodle is growling at me, then licking me, then jumping all over me AND the body, the 5-year old is bouncing on the bed beside Aunt Sally, cheerfully urging her to wake up, while Zoe, the 11-year old, is telling me how she tried to listen for a heartbeat and couldn’t hear one. Despite the panic I was feeling inside, I somehow managed to sound calm and reassuring when I told Zoe to take her sister and the damned dog downstairs. I gave them an encouraging smile and told them not to worry, that they'd done an awesome job and I was going to help Aunt Sally now. It’s been three days, and I still can’t remember that moment without my hands shaking.

I didn’t wait to see if the kids did what I asked because I was focused on moving Aunt Sally off the bed. This is the point where I'd really like to say I didn't have a single squeamish thought and just leaped into action. The latter part is true, at least. I never once hesitated, even though I was pretty sure Aunt Sally had been dead for quite some time. For the next few moments, my mind seemed to operate apart from my body. While my arms were sliding beneath her knees and waist in what was perhaps the most incredibly inept attempt to move a body, ever, my mind was in freak-out mode, bouncing around like a feral cat in a dog kennel. I kept saying, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," to this woman with the dead, open eyes, while in the back of my head a voice was chanting, "Oh, God, I don't want to do this ... I HAVE to do this ... please don't make me do this ... you can do this … you can do this … you can do this."

Of course I was doing it all wrong. I have really weak arms — I can’t bench-press a feather, so I don’t know why I thought I could just lift her up and carry her like some poorly conceived reenactment of An Officer and a Gentleman. Moving a completely prone body is something that's hard to understand until you've tried it. I'd say it was like trying to lift a 175 lb. sack of flour, except it's not anything like that. Flour in a sack would have its weight somewhat evenly distributed, whereas a human body is dense in places you don’t expect and can’t predict. 

It didn’t take me long to realize I was never going to get Aunt Sally off the bed this way. So I snatched up the phone and told the guy at 911 that I just wasn't strong enough to do what he’d asked. I didn’t recognize my own voice, probably because it was filled with the sort of despair that comes from knowing you’re in a life-or-death situation and failing miserably. Fear, panic, frustration … I felt it all rising inside me, bubbling up my throat, ready to erupt in one giant, desperate sob. But then the 911 guy told me to grab whatever blankets or sheets I could find beneath Aunt Sally and use them to pull her to the floor. Because duh. And also ehhhh. Let’s add “stupid” to the myriad emotions I was experiencing.

Sally was lying on a thick comforter, so there was something sturdy to grab. A large, slate nightstand was blocking her path to the floor, but 911 told me not to worry about hitting her head or hurting her when she fell.

I called on my feeble arms once more and somehow managed to pull, tug, and yank her off the bed. Of course I also knocked a bunch of crap off the nightstand, and even as I’m reaching for the phone again I’m realizing that I just dumped all this stuff right on this poor woman’s face — bottles, lotions, a tumbler full of water and the tumbler itself are raining down on her — and she isn’t flinching or blinking or jerking or doing ANYTHING, and so my brain decides to take a little picture and forever preserve the image of her unseeing eyes and her slack face, because obviously I would need to be shown this scene again and again, whether awake or asleep, for who knows how many more days or weeks or months.

While my brain was being ever so helpful, the guy on the phone was instructing me to start chest compressions. I felt something pop beneath the heel of my hand on the first one, because this story can’t possibly get any more horrible. I didn’t stop, though. I had the phone pinched between my ear and my shoulder, but it kept trying to pop out every few seconds because I was moving so much. I was doing all sorts of weird contortions to keep it in place — if I dropped it, I’d lose the 911 guy who was counting off the chest compressions for me. The pace you’re supposed to use is a hell of a lot faster than I’d ever realized (100 per minute!), so I’m glad I could hear him and sync my motions to his voice.

I can’t remember how many times he counted to thirty before the first police officer arrived. All I know is that I’ve never been so relieved to relinquish responsibility for something in my life. When I tried to stop, however, the officer told me no, keep going, keep doing the chest compressions, and then HE started to count them off for me. He opened a respirator bag and connected some leads between a tiny machine he’d brought and Sally’s chest. An extremely loud, continuous tone came from the machine, along with mechanical instructions to resume CPR. I think perhaps a pulse was supposed to have registered? We stayed as we were, me doing chest compressions and him using the respirator bag in between reps, until the paramedics arrived. My role was officially over, except for the millionty questions the police would be asking throughout the evening.

I went downstairs to check on the girls and was surprised to find my daughter there in the living room with them. I’d told her to stay inside our house, but the fire truck, ambulance, and five police cars parked outside had frightened her. I never heard a single siren, although I assume they were used. Maybe adrenaline blocked the sound?

Wendy called to let me know they’d checked out of their hotel in San Antonio and were heading back to Austin. I had her speak to the police, who needed to locate Aunt Sally’s next of kin. It turns out Aunt Sally had mentioned having some chest pains earlier, although they apparently weren’t bad enough to seek treatment. Zoe pointed out a grocery bag on the counter; Aunt Sally had brought a bunch of stuff to make the girls treats during their fun weekend together. According to Zoe, Aunt Sally hadn’t been there very long when she’d said she felt tired and decided to take a little nap. Fatigue, as I’d later learn, is a common heart attack symptom. I recalled there being a wet washcloth on the nightstand, and when I asked Zoe about it she said Sally was sweating a lot — another warning sign of a heart attack. Then again, it was 106 degrees here Friday afternoon. Sweating is an easy symptom to dismiss when it's summer in central Texas.

After obtaining police and parental consent, I took all three girls (and the stupid dog) home with me. I really didn’t want the kids to see the body being removed from the house, and the police heartily agreed. I cannot say enough about our amazing first responders. I realize this was probably “all in a day’s work” to them, but their confidence and competence made a terrible situation seem a little less so.

The girls had never stayed with us before, but I offered to keep them for however long they and their parents would like, which ended up being from Friday afternoon through Sunday night. My daughter got a glimpse of what it’s like to have an older and younger sister, and I got validation for my one-and-done childbearing decision. I jest — they’re all really good kids.

When I tucked them in the first night, I told the eldest girl that I was just one bedroom over and she was welcome to come and get me if they needed anything.

“Even if you’re asleep?” she asked. 

“Of course,” I said. “It’s okay to wake me up.”

“But when I tried to wake up Aunt Sally, I couldn’t.”

Guh. Just ... guh.

I assured her my heart was in great shape, and that what had happened to Aunt Sally was rare. But it really isn’t. And this is where my story becomes a PSA, people.

Everyone should know the warning signs of a heart attack. Most episodes don’t involve sudden, searing pain like we’ve been conditioned to expect from television drama. Some are so subtle they’re called “silent heart attacks.” In every case, though, minutes matter! Familiarize yourself with the symptoms here:

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

And remember: women can exhibit different warning signs than men. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, so educate yourself on the differences.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

I hope you never find yourself in the sort of situation I encountered on Friday. But if you do, I’m sure you’ll respond with far less bumbling and clumsiness. There are a thousand things I wish I’d done differently, although I did other things — important things — that I never knew I could do.


Will I be better equipped to handle the next emergency that comes along? Hard to say. I'm actually hoping I don't have to find out. In the meantime, you can bet I'll be leaving crisis management skills off my resume.





Drive Me Crazy

Warning: Contains foul language and sweeping generalizations.

Ever wondered how your zodiacal sign relates to the way you drive? If so, you’re in luck (and you’re weird).

Driving Style, By Astrological Sign:

Aries – You still haven’t figured out the whole left versus right thing. If a sign tells you to merge left, you invariably head right. Right lane ends? No problem — Aries drivers will quickly change lanes to make sure they’re in whichever lane disappears in ten feet. All of which begs the question, “How hard it is, you stupid piece of shit?”

Hmm … decisions, decisions. It’s all so confusing when you're an idiot.

Visual aids are no help, as you suffer from acute hyperdumbassism, a cognitive defect that reverses all images before they reach your miniscule brain. This also explains why you brake at green lights. And why everyone hates you.


Taurus – You refuse to leave the fast lane, even though you’ve been pacing an 18-wheeler for the past ten miles and have fifty pissed-off drivers behind you. You’re a stubborn asshole who treats the road like it’s the best seat at Golden Corral. You don’t leave an all-you-can-eat buffet — or your lane — for anyone. If the person behind you gets too close, you just drive slower. Fun fact: more Taureans die in drive-by shootings than all other signs combined.


Gemini – You’re a menace on the road, thanks to your Multiple Personality Disorder and your inability to shut the fuck up. When you’re not gabbing on your cell and sending texts, you’re arguing with talk radio or possibly the voices inside your head. You switch lanes as often as you change sexual partners — fast lane, slow lane, male, female — you’ll try anything and anyone, so long as you can blame your parents when it all goes to hell. All Geminis are liars and sluts, so they rarely get tickets. It’s just one more reason to despise them.


Cancer – Moody and misunderstood, Cancer drivers are easy to spot by their “I ♥ My Chihuahua” and “Gun Control Means Hitting Your Target” bumper stickers. They say Cancers are homebodies, probably because they all live in their parents’ basements mumbling about sneaky little Hobbitses. It’s best to steer clear of Cancer drivers on the road. They’re never more than a body or two away from completing their magnificent human flesh-suit.


Leo – Your car cost more than a house, making you the most awesomest human of ever and also the undisputed winner of life.

Everyone had better get the hell out of your way before you have to go all German engineering on their asses. You’re late for your tee-time, dammit, and there’s a country club with your name on it (or Granddaddy’s name, anyway). Don’t these people know who you are? You own this road, baby. Which is good, since you’ll eventually wreck your Mercedes and end up permanently embedded in the asphalt.


Virgo – Road construction and detours freak you the fuck out, as do spontaneity and joy. Before leaving the house, you research your destination, plot turn-by-turn directions, calculate your fuel usage, and update your amortized vehicle depreciation spreadsheet. Good thing you’re just running down to the corner 7-Eleven, Rain Man. Your OCD pretty much guarantees that anyone taking a road trip with you will eventually gnaw your air freshener into a makeshift shiv and try to murder you with it. But that’s okay — you’ve already mapped the location of every hospital along your route.


Libra - Either you’re too stupid to use your phone’s GPS, or else you think you’re being quirky and ironic when you tell everyone you have a “dumb” phone. If it’s the latter, it’s most likely because a) you don’t know what ironic means, and b) you’re an asshole. You never know where the fuck you’re going, so you brake at Every Damned Sign in case you’re supposed to turn there. Get a map, moron. Being indecisive is not ironic, it’s not hip, and it’s not cute. No one likes you.


Scorpio – You’re a selfish, conniving bastard who can’t follow rules. You know your lane is going to end, but you stay in it anyway, zipping over at the last possible moment so you can cut off the hundred or so suckers who’ve been waiting to inch forward. Depending on your mood, which is impossible to predict, you may respond to the irritated driver behind you by a) laughing maniacally, b) intentionally mistaking their hand gestures for a friendly wave and returning it maniacally, or c) spontaneously combusting … in a maniacally Scorpio manner.


Sagittarius – That 49cc four-stroke between your legs barely qualifies as a real vehicle, but that’s okay because you’re probably not a real boy. You think your scooter is a time-saver, and you’re right — now everyone will know you’re a loser without having to waste their time talking to you. If only you were that considerate on the road. News flash: street legal doesn’t mean street worthy. There’s a reason people don’t ride their lawnmowers to work, Genius. That reason is dignity. Unless you’re a chick, of course. Mopeds are fine for chicks. But if you’re a dude, you must trade in the Vespa for a real motorcycle the instant your testicles finally drop.


Capricorn – You’re too cheap to buy a new car, much less roadside assistance, so you create a traffic jam each time your aging Yugo coughs and splutters and begs for a mercy killing. You spend half your time in a loaner car, which you drive like a fucking asshole since this is all temporary and any day now someone will recognize your greatness and reward your talents and you WILL CONTROL EVERYTHING, BWAHAHA. Settle down, Beavis. You gotta pay off the Yugo first.


That’s a sweet ride, bro. You got AM radio in that thing? Sick!


Aquarius – You’re a judgmental prick, so of course you drive a stupid Prius. You love asking everyone how many miles per gallon their cars get, just so you can gasp at gas prices and make dumbfuck comments like, “Gee, I can’t even remember the last time I had to fill up, hahaha.” On the road, you’re so busy making snide assessments of other vehicles that you miss your exit and have to drive twice as far, subsequently reducing your own mpg. Asshole.


Pisces – You keep a prism dangling from your rear-view mirror because you truly believe rainbows make the world a better place. Just like the real Pollyanna, all Pisces will eventually die from syphilis.

I will hug him and squeeze him and call him Siffy.

Never let a Pisces drive when leaving a concert or sporting event — while they unselfishly allow Every Other Car in the parking lot to exit first, you will die of starvation and dehydration, your cries for help drowned out by the Donny Osmond CD blasting from their car stereo.

Check it out — George Michael and Danny Zuko (Grease) had a baby! And he wears mom-jeans.



The Search for Humor

My sister, whom I love dearly, said to me the other day, “Your book was hilarious, Dani, but I have a question about your writing. In all seriousness—”

Let me stop right there to cue the alarm bells:

Baroooomba! Baroooomba! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! DANGER!!  

Okay, let’s continue.

“—In all seriousness, why aren’t you ever that funny in person?”

The simple answer is I don’t have a week to script clever responses to everyday conversations. The longer answer is I just happened to have a witty character wander into my head and whisper her story against my subconscious — Kate’s the funny one, not me.

Of course, I gave my sister neither of those answers, preferring the simpler, time-honored reply of “Screw you, bee-yotch.” Then we laughed and laughed and laughed.

Still, the conversation made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve posted to this blog. The reason for my absence (read: excuse) is I just haven’t felt very entertaining lately. I was distracted by the election and other nonsense, and I didn’t want to turn this blog into an attack on anyone’s political or religious views. That’s what my Facebook is for.  This blog was supposed to be light-hearted and fun, a place to come for a quick chuckle.

But we haven’t had much to chuckle about lately, have we? Between a devastating hurricane and the horrific tragedy in Connecticut, it feels wrong to laugh — disrespectful, somehow, to smile when so many have lost so much. And yet for some people, laughter may be the only refuge from grief.

Even without this most recent act of senseless violence (which is a stupid phrase, btw — is there violence that actually makes sense?), the holidays can be hard. The Ghosts of Loved Ones Past call often and, as often as not, unexpectedly — there’s no telling what random sight or song or smell will trigger the sort of memory that makes you break down in the middle of the grocery store aisle.

So if you’re anything like me, and you just need a little break from ALL THE FEELINGS, I’m here to tell you it’s okay. You’re not dishonoring anyone’s memory by allowing yourself to be happy for a little while. You’re not a bad person. You’re just human.

When you feel you’re ready, check out these sites:

The Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog

From $72 biscuits to an acorn-shaped twine holder, Drew Magary peruses the Williams-Sonoma catalog with hilariously snarky results. The fruitcake was my absolute favorite.

Your LL Bean Boyfriend

You have to love a tumblr with the tag line “He will build you a table and then have sex with you on it. Doesn’t get much hotter than that.” This very funny page features flannel-clad cuties with handy translations of what they’re really thinking. Stand aside, Harlequin Romance cover model — my LL Bean Boyfriend has a planer, and he’s not afraid to use it!

The Snark Squad: Ruined For Life

Having written a few books, I have an inkling of the tremendous amount of hard work and effort required to take a story from concept to novel (or at least the amount that SHOULD go into it). It’s mean and unprofessional and totally uncool for me to mock the subpar writing of EL James and the train wreck that is the Fifty Shades “series.” Luckily, the Snark Squad is there to do it for me! Lorraine and company will have you rolling with laughter and seriously questioning the sanctity of the New York Times Bestseller list.



Happy holidays to all. May peace and love surround you.






Telling Stories

Somewhere during my morning commute, a woman named Jane wandered into my head. This is her story, or at least one very small part of it. It is told from Jane's point of view, not mine. Never mine.




“Green sweater … green sweater … green sweater.”

I mumble the words over and over as I paw through the clothes in her closet, their smell somehow mustier than the rest of the house. This room has been closed off for days, so the scent of disuse makes sense.

It also makes my skin crawl.

What I wouldn’t give for some rubber gloves and a dust rag right now. I bet I could even find a rusty old can of Pledge beneath the kitchen sink. She always kept her cleaning supplies there, in a half-rotted cardboard box. At the very least, I could find something to scrub away the layer of dust and grime that seems to coat every surface, something sharp and astringent to fill the stale air. The sense of abandonment that clings to the house, though — that’s a different story. They don’t make a cleanser for that. And even if they did, it’d be too late to use it.

Downstairs, I hear my brother, Erik, talking to the others. I can’t make out their words, not with the old A/C unit rattling in the living room window, but the hum of conversation reminds me to hurry.

Convinced the sweater isn’t in the closet, I turn and yank open random drawers. In my haste, I upset the picture frames that blanket the top of her dresser. As I set them upright, matching each frame to its dust-free strip like a puzzle, I realize she’d arranged them strategically. Each picture covered a dent or a particularly ugly chip in the dresser’s thin veneer, effectively hiding the years of abuse and neglect. For some reason, this makes me angry. I push the frames back, so that all the scars show.

I return my attention to the drawers, careful not to disturb my handiwork. In the very last one, I find the prey I’ve been hunting: a pale green sweater she’d made many years ago. Sea foam green, I think it’s called, although I’ve been to the sea many times and have never seen foam that color. Sea foam gray would be better.

I close the drawer and shake the folds from the sweater. It’s a lovely piece, made lovelier with time. She was always good with a crochet hook, but it’s age, not skill, that makes the yarn so soft. The big, loopy stitches look almost unbearably delicate. It seems an odd choice for a final shroud, but it’s not my place to argue. Not anymore, at least. God, how she’d laugh if she could hear me think such thoughts.

There’s a string of yarn dangling from the bottom of the sweater, and I make a mental note to snip it off before handing the garment over. When I examine it closer, I can see that it’s the start of a row, the loose bit you’re supposed to work into the other stitches as you go. How could she have forgotten this? She took such care in crafting the rest of the sweater, such pride in her work. I’m assuming that last bit, of course — it’s been years since we’ve spoken, and I have no idea what made her proud. But she asked to be buried in the damned thing, so it must have meant something to her. In all the years she’s owned it, how had she never noticed this flaw? It’s so obvious. Almost deliberate. Why did she never attempt to fix it? A few quick flicks, and she could have woven it back into place, hidden it the same way she hid the gouges in her dresser. Or she could have cut it off entirely, as I’m planning to do. Something. Why did she ignore it?

It bothers me more than it should, that string.

I pick at it absentmindedly and frown at her dresser. I know the others are waiting downstairs, but I’m distracted by the pictures now. I wonder if Erik will want them. He’ll be disgusted by the Wal-Mart frames, of course, but you never know with Erik. Or at least I never do. And it is Erik’s smiling face and Erik’s deep blue eyes — our mother’s eyes — that feature so prominently in each photo. All except one, that is.

A small frame in back holds the only proof I ever existed in this house. Surprisingly, there isn’t half as much dust on this picture. The larger photos of Erik probably shielded it. It’s the only explanation I care to entertain.

I stare into the frame and recognize nothing of myself in the young girl looking back. I try to recall how old I was when it was taken. Ten? Eleven? Certainly before my twelfth birthday, before innocence was first shattered by my father’s ugly hands and my mother’s uglier silence. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember I was ever carefree. But now, the memories won’t stop.

That last summer, the last trip we ever took to the lake cabin. Picking wild blueberries with my mother, catching trout with Erik, teasing him when I landed the biggest fish. Lying beside my father in the narrow old hammock, never questioning his touch on my leg or the reluctance on my mother’s face as she watched us.

That summer was the last time our family was whole.

Someone’s replaced my knees with rubber bands. I stumble to my mother’s bed, still clutching the photo, still fiddling with the loose string of her sweater. The old springs groan beneath my weight as I sit.

I’ve spent thirty years trying to forget. Why did she want to remember? Why did she keep this, of all pictures? And why didn’t she do something about this goddamned string?  How could she stand to look at it hanging there, day in and day out, a constant reminder of her mistake, a daily affirmation of her failure?

Now the memories hit so hard and so fast that they split me open. I’m sliced apart, my skin mere ribbons, and I sit there bleeding and lost and so very desperate to gather up all the pieces of myself that have spilled onto my mother’s floor. I don’t have time for this. There’s a funeral to plan, bills to pay, a house to sell. Somehow, I must find a way to put myself back together again, even if all the pieces don’t fit.

Because the reality is the pieces will never fit. There will always be something missing, a part so tiny only a child could see it. Lord knows I’ve found plenty of other things to try stuffing into the empty spot over the years. Some have worked better than others. Some have come so close to making me feel complete that they have even fooled me. Almost.

It’s amazing the lies you can tell yourself.

All it takes is one string to unravel it, one errant piece of yarn left dangling. You give it a yank, and boom — you’re nothing but a scared little girl, crying for the mother you lost not last week, but thirty years ago. And when your brother finds you there, tangled in a pile of yarn that was once a sweater, and asks what the hell happened, perhaps you will finally find the words that have eluded you for so long.

“It wasn’t my fault.”