Dearest Maria,

Going to start big, because I need you to believe this, to feel it through and through. You are the one I love and will love until my dying day. I love your skin, your knees, your heart, your mind, your needs, your navel. Because that love is so deep, so natural, I forget it sometimes. It’s the air I breath. And I’ll only share the air I breathe with you, my love.

I love that your hair is curly and frizzy and alive. I love your electric blue nails. And your chubby toes. I love the scar on your forearm that you got baking chocolate cake for your sister and your family in Florida. That was good cake. And the burn got you the attention you craved.

I love how you loved your sister. That is important and necessary for you to remember. Your love was generous, over the top, needy, yet you let her go. It is that love that keeps her here with you. Your sister, with the glorious wild curly hair. That is part of you too.

I love how you love your parents imperfectly. You get the most generous when you resent them the most. You are tender with them when you want to stab them for getting frail and sick. They gave you gnocchi, Ponza and this house, which keeps you safe and protected.

You flail around in your life. You’re restless and will work yourself up to great feats of bravery. You’ll drive to Michigan to meet a stranger, you’ll accept a job because it’s something you’ve never done. Your soul is an adventurer, even if your body has been in the Bronx a long time.

You’re funny, soulful and creative. You care about the girls you lead; you work hard to make them understand that they are seen. That they are perfect. You don’t always do that for yourself.

You wear lace and fancy underwear. I love the swish of your thighs and the curve of your waist. You enjoy a cocktail. And swimming. I love how excited you are about being in the water. Especially nightswimming.

You are imperfect and brave. You panic that you’re not enough and go for the big gesture. You’re needy and proud. But you are enough. You are great. You try to be good and kind. You are beautiful. And I’m glad you’re mine.

Love, Maria



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I Don’t Feel Free

All my self talk has been negative lately.

You know, that track that whisper talks all the ugliest parts of you. It’s been stuck, and it’s keeping me quiet.

I’ve tried talking to  my friends. I can feel their loving concern, but it comes coated with judgement. “You should be doing better. Why are you stuck again?” (This is not true. Sorry friends. Even if were, though, the love is the important part of it.)

I’m terrified to lose the handful of things that feel good. I hate holidays and how I end up feeling isolated and weird. I’m angry and sad. But these feelings aren’t permanent. And I accept them too.

I started reading the Elena Ferrante book, My Brilliant Friend, and it’s stirring up feelings. Longing. Nostalgia for Italy. Parts of me that I let fall away.

It’s not been a great week, but I’m going to put it behind me. Take a shower and read more. And write a love letter to myself.

And I’ll post that.

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I Carry This With Me

  1. I used to love books and reading and writing, but I’m so distracted by the world around me (and on my phone) that I only finish a book under book club time pressure. I’m embarrassed and sad because reading was a core part of my identity.
  2. I used the KonMari Method on my books last year and donated over 600 volumes to the library. I hope they didn’t end up in the landfill. I hope they won’t haunt me. But I needed to shed some weight.
  3. I think I could live in a houseboat, but I’ve never been on one.
  4. I learned to swim when my father threw me into the sea when I was three. He was determined that I’d learned to swim before we left Ponza, the Italian island where we’re from. I still remember the feeling of falling, of watching the sun disappear, and then,  discovering an instinct to kick.
  5. My father had a heart attack right before my sixteenth birthday. He was forty-eight and a heavy smoker. He’s still alive, but an invalid now. He never smoked again.
  6. My mom survived early stage lung cancer. She never smoked herself.
  7. My sister died of colon cancer when she was forty-seven years old. Five years ago this June. I sometimes think that if I survive the next few years, I might be immortal.
  8. A few years ago, I weighed over 300 pounds. I lost quite seventy pounds and kept it off, but I’ve plateaued and it’s beginning to affect my sense of self.
  9. Taking up space is something I think about alot. I’ll always be self-conscious and aware, in a way that smaller people probably aren’t.
  10. My butt hates stools. So do I. Why choose a stool over a chair?
  11. I am a terrific procrastinator. But when I finally make a decision, I make big changes and leaps with blinding speed.
  12. I fell in love in 2015. He’s my opposite, all action, quick decisions, black and white, and I love being challenged by him. His support feels deeper to me because it’s rooted in trust that comes from curiosity and questioning. I love the way he thinks. He brings me peace.
  13. I value kindness over almost anything else.
  14. I started cooking on Sundays for the entire week of lunches. And it feels like self-love and nurturing. Riced cauliflower is my new love/obsession.
  15. I shudder if I brush a shower curtain, in or out of the shower.
  16. I remember the feel of my sister’s hand when she released her last breath, but other memories have already begun to fade. I miss her every day.
  17. I live in the Bronx and I can’t deny that it feels like failure to live in the same place where I grew up. My fear is that I will die here.
  18. I teach STEM to elementary and middle school girls. Since I was an English major and a writer, I’m surprised by how much I enjoy it and how good I am at it.
  19. Because of my weight and self-consciousness, I didn’t go swimming for many years. Six years ago, I bought a skirted bathing suit and threw myself into waters off Cape Cod. Now I own five suits and go aqua cycling.
  20. I’ve been thinking about getting a dog for at least five years.


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Evacuate the Dance Floor

A complete list of things I ate today because I was excited/nervous and later, waiting for the man I love:

Two leftover Trader Joe’s phyllo pastries eaten while dripping from morning shower

Two coffees with Trader Joe’s vanilla almond milk, one before and one after the pastries. Fast guzzles.

Bag of baked Lays crammed into my mouth while crossing the GWB

Bottle of plain seltzer on GWB

1.75 pretzel sticks (bread, not thin, tiny) w/ cheese sauce in Park Ridge, NJ

Asian chicken salad that was only Asian by dint of canned mandarin oranges and a metric ton of sesame oil. Chicken was shredded and sad.

2 glasses of prosecco

Bourbon manhattan, extra cherry, although the cherry is maraschino and therefore, inferior.

Cheesecake with raspberry sauce.

Now I’m listening to a loud Portuguese man making a loud phone call, and I’m debating whether I’ll admit that I stress ate all of that, and skip dinner. Or just eat again.

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It Gets Late Early Around Here

I’m sitting in a dark corner at a New Jersey Panera. Don’t ask me how I got here, but here I am.

I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m doing it my way. I’m writing every day and keeping a word count, but I’m not barreling towards 50,000. I don’t even think I have 50k words IN me right now. I want to sit in the quiet. I want to be left alone. I feel flinchy and exposed, but also as if the world is coming through a layer of vaseline. Muted and distant.

The sky is beautiful today; the late afternoon light is fading. It’s warm and unseasonal. The leaves are way past their peak; they’re getting in their winter look. I yearn to stay focused. Get my job done and do it well. Eat healthily. See friends. DO things.

But,today, I’m just trying to write few words and to look up, really look up, and around. The details matter, I tell my students. So I look for them.

The girl in the plaid school uniform keeps sneaking looks at the menu. She wants food, but her friend is mid soccer-boy story.  The middle-aged woman wiping tables chews gum, but her mouth is crooked, like she’s storing it in her cheek. People come in two by two.

I want to cry, but I can’t quite get there. I’m the same age she was when she died. I’m going to pass her, probably. Will she still be my older sister, when she’s always and forever 47?

I don’t want the holidays to be sad. I can’t bear to be the sad girl again. But I can’t hold the happiness. It overflows its tiny container, and I try to chase it, but I drop the rest.

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The Things She Didn’t Cook

I’ve been cleaning out my guest room/library.  Donating about 500 books. Combining my cookbooks and my sister’s. Maybe one day I won’t know which was hers and which was mine.

I also found her collection of pages torn out of magazines and recipes that she printed out. Most from Food TV. The hope chest of serious home cooks. I looked through them yesterday, scanning for her handwriting. Wanting to find the things she made. She left a binder with her “real” recipes, which might or might not be real. She had a way of keeping secrets. Ingredients that she wouldn’t share because she wanted to be the best at making the recipe.

These were different. They never made it to her stable. They were the things that caught her eye. Things she wanted to make for her friends, for my parents, for me, for Michael. Some things stood out to me. Lemon. Blueberry. Zucchini. Gnocchi. (Come on, Sis, you don’t need a recipe for GNOCCHI. We have it in our muscle memory.)

I have one of these too. Although it gets smaller each year, rather than larger, because now I have bookmarks. I’m cooking more, but I print only when it’s a keeper, usually with handwritten notes.

I should make one of her recipes. The volcano cakes from Cook’s Illustrated that she actually asked me to make for her.  I remember the recipe. It’s in my collection of strays. I didn’t get to make it for her, and for that, I’m relieved, because it’s fiddley in the way that I hate.

I should make one of these recipes, I think. Maybe a few. Not the conch fritters. Those were her special loves. Maybe the lemon blueberry muffins, except I have frozen blackberries that I’m anxious to use. Is it all right to change? Is it all right to move on?

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But in my mind I’m havin’ a pretty good time with you

Four Thoughts, Disconnected

  1. In my mind, I’m quiet and watchful. Shy and careful about joining a conversation. In reality, I’m a little loud, with a big personality. I laugh boisterously and use my outside voice too much. I talk out of turn and I start conversations with strangers. This last one is new, but it feels right, like the me I’ve always been. Since I’ve lost  weight (ugh, more tk) and gotten the teeth looking right, I’m more willing to smile at strangers, to make a comment about the plums, to rolls my eyes in tandem with the patient bank teller, to giggle with the toddler who’s wearing a tutu that looks like my petticoat. My posture is still horrible, the combination of texting and years of self-consciousness giving my neck a colon’s curve. And my mom has gotten at least half a foot shorter, so there’s that coming at me. But, if I’m looking down these days, it’s not because I don’t want to be seen or to see you. You, I’m always happy to see.
  2. I have so much to say, but I’ve been saying it in other ways. Not writing anything personal, not tweeting or fbing or gramming, or whatever new -ing that makes me equally curious and overwhelmed. I’ve been breathing, though, normally, in and out, like the directions say, and finding time to love widely and well. I have so much love in my life. Really. Occasionally, I sit still and feel as if I’m in the center of a deep pool of it. Floating without effort. Suspended. And that’s just friends and family. I have another kind of love too. One that I’ve hoped for and doubted would ever come. He makes me feel safe and although he is by no means a coddler, with him, I am precious and adored. My next lesson is learning how to relax. To let it be and unfurl, as life does. Ours is not a romance novel or a sit com or a horror movie. It’s just two complicated people, finding it easy to love each other. (I hope it lasts. Don’t let me jinx it. Stay away from the black cat. Magical thinking, blah, blah etc)
  3. I lost seventy pounds and then I just stopped. Settled into a size 16. Still fat. Getting fitter, not entirely motivated to lose more. Mostly because my body likes this size. A bit more and things will shift in a way that makes me profoundly sad. I don’t want to talk or think about extra skin, but I have to. How it is the badge of accomplishment as well as the scarlet F of weight loss. “I was fatter once. This is the price I paid. I’ll never look ‘normal.’ ” I think it’s half the reason that people put on weight again – the constant sad trombone of past “transgressions.” I’m happier in my skin than I’ve ever been, but I hate it too. I hate that I’ll never get a fresh start. I can’t erase any of it. Maybe I’m harming myself by not losing more. Maybe it’s just denial. Maybe I just don’t have it in me to lose those “last” fifty pounds and have to struggle to love myself again. This is the one body I get. I finally figured out how to love it (not the arms, though. I’ll always respect, not love them) and maybe loving it forever means letting it be?
  4. I took apart my kitchen the other day to inventory and organize my baking supplies. I’d noticed a creeping collection. My mother buys Wesson Oil whenever it’s on sale. She has a stash in the basement. I have chocolate. 6 POUNDS of semi-sweet chocolate, many ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate, chips, and bits. And 5 tins of cocoa. And other stuff. Cake flour and matzoh meal in the freezer. Dried cherries with a best used before date of 2010. I cleaned it  all out. Goodbye condensed milk. Adios almond meal. Ciao marzipan. If I need you, I’ll buy you and use you. I don’t need you hanging around, like the ghosts of desserts past. But the chocolate I kept. Expect to see me coming with a pan of brownies or chocolate banana bread or layer cake. I’ll be smiling.
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