I recently wrote this on my Facebook page called Inventing Maria McCabe Official: 

This is a response to the recent stories in the media concerning Yann Moix’s comment in an interview in which he said he was, “incapable” of loving women over 50, and that they were “invisible” to him, and then going on to say that he prefers women in their 20’s and Asian women. This guy is now all over social media and everyone is ripping him to shreds. Deservedly, perhaps…? Not sure. I can’t help but think he does have a right to his opinion. Artists, classically speaking, focus on painting, sculptors sculpt young smooth body parts, photographers focus on shooting perfect young female bodies. Rare is the Rubens that depicts the rounder more plump subject and far far less frequently a ‘woman of a certain age’. This guy’s words have struck a cord with me because I am nearing 50 and maybe a bit in shock about this fact because I don’t think I look or feel that age whatever my mind imagines that age to be.  depicts the rounder more plump subject and far far less frequently a ‘woman of a certain age’. This guy’s words have struck a cord with me because I am nearing 50 and maybe a bit in shock about this fact because I don’t think I look or feel that age whatever my mind imagines that age to be. Also being single isn’t helping- I am fully aware that men in my dating pool simply want something younger, less accomplished and quite frankly I’ve given up on romance and partnership almost by force the way time and circumstance has robbed me of the opportunity to have a child. I’m the first one to encourage my friends and people I admire to embrace their age ‘40 is the new 30’ ‘50 is the new 40’ but the truth is, that it’s not! 50 is 50. Believe me I embrace my experience in life and my profession and with the relationships I’ve had. There’s a wisdom that comes with age. I can accomplish anything I want at this age! Start a business, take on a new degree, move to a new country… but I can’t have a baby anymore and I can’t change the opinion of men like this guy… I’m convinced he’s not alone in his thinking. I’ve done and continue doing ‘the work’ of understanding myself as a spiritual being having a physical experience. I know what Moix says about women’s bodies isn’t true in every circumstance and I’m all for body positivity at any age, but I think it boils down to the fact that what he said is hurtful and offensive to women 50 and over.
I’m getting really tired of the way people are responding to him- and others who say things that cause us to cringe a little- the clever similes the extravagant or even base name calling – it’s the kind of language that, in my mind, negates the whole argument. It’s the kind of thing people do consistently whenever Trump tweets or appears on T.V. Which is to immediately revert to childish name calling and insults about his physical appearance. This is unkind and shows very poor debating skills! Let’s look at the situation, address what makes us so upset and try to address that directly. With intelligence. I have so much more to stay about this. I might start blogging again… HuffPost HuffPost Women Marie Claire The Independent The Guardian Jezebel The New York Times

Let’s begin again…

clothesline_main-680x510-680x510There was a time when I would close my eyes and fantasize about the life I truly wanted.  The life I envisioned began like this:

I see it like a film.  I can see the scene from the camera’s perspective, moving into the the grounds through the large iron gate, camera moving steadily, and out from the wisteria hanging from the trelace onto the garden patio surrounded by lush greenery and scattered with fragrant lavender petals.  A mass of crisp white bed linens hangs off the line, gentlly swaying in the warm summer breeze drying under the light of the hot Ligurian sun. And then I see myself behind the mass of white.  Children calling out to each other in playful laughter from a nearby yard and the camera moves in on me slowly.  A contented look on my face, pulling clean wet sheets out of the brown wicker basket on the grass and adding them to the line.  I’m wearing a simple white cotton dress, hair pulled back at the nape of my neck.  Carmel colored curls spring out of the elastic and bounce as I bend to the basket grabbing a pillowcase and reach up to the line.  I can feel small beads of sweat begin to form at my hairline, but the breeze feels good and she has a look of contentment on my face.  And then I see him.  He walks out of the kitchen into the yard holding something – a beer?  No, two.  He kicks a random ball in his path without missing a beat and the sandy colored dog goes bouncing with a bark beyond the fig tree, playing.  He holds one out to me,  “Prego, amore” here you go my love he says in Italian,   “Grazie” Thank you she responds and slips the neck of the bottle down the side of her own, just behind her ear to cool herself off,  before taking a swig.  He sits in the white plastic chair near the clothesline, squints his eyes because the sun, “Basta, dai” enough, already, and taps his hand on the chair next to his.  She gives him a smile, places the beer bottle on the chair and continues pinning the sheets to the line.

Not sure why I’m doing laundry.  Not sure why I’m wearing white, which by the way, I almost never wear because a) I spill everything on myself when I wear white and b) I think I look fat in white.  Also, I don’t know why I’m drinking a beer in this scenario.  If you know me you know I don’t like beer mostly because it’s carbonated and carbonated drinks make me gassy and I burp a lot.  But this is the scene I see in my hear when I fantasize about my life in Italy.  The life I wanted and never had.  The man I wanted and could’ve had if it weren’t for my stupid pride.  But that’s me, letting pride get in the way of a really good thing even when the really good thing is potentially wearing a white dress and sweating in the sun, even if it is a Ligurian sun, and hanging some beer drinking Italian man’s laundry.

Last summer I found out he had a child.  With whom, I have no idea, but he’s a father now.  And you know what?  I don’t own a white dress and now I live in Shanghai and my Chinese Aiyi (housekeeper) does all the laundry.  Go figure.


August 3, 2017 — 1 Comment

So this is 48.

There have been three words that dominate my 47th year and bring me to where I am right now.  Grief, Change, and Gratitude.  I’ve grieved over the loss of family, friendships, lovers and dreams.  I grieved over the life I wanted and have a new-found gratitude for what is in front of me each moment of each day.  Grief and change:  The master of these has been the constant of change.

Grief.  Forty-seven was a year of big changes, as I mentioned here a year ago.  The start of my forty-eighth was spent grieving.  I continued to grieve the loss of my mother.  Friends kept telling me how strong I was and how I would go on and remember in my own way; that I would work through the feelings and cherish the memories; that pieces of her live on in me.  I didn’t feel strong.  In fact I felt the weakest I’d ever felt in my life.  I was confused by the immediate memories of my mother that came to mind were not pleasant memories but hurtful ones.  Despite this, I looked for and believed there were signs that she was near me: white feathers that land in my lap, hearts in the clouds and in the leaves on my walks, smells, gestures I’d seen in my students that were exact movements of her, and even words coming out of my own mouth that I didn’t seem to have control of, convinced she was speaking through me. I’d joke about this, telling friends I was turning into my mother.  Then I found our my mother wasn’t who I thought she was.  This truth is one I hope to spend time finding out more about in the coming year.

Gratitude.  As I get older I look around me and see the life I once wanted for my self is not the life I have.  More than anything I wanted a family of my own, the stability of owning a home and a romantic partnership with a man to share it all with.  Thinking about what I don’t have can bring me to a very dark place, I will admit.  Somehow I find a way to get myself out of that hole and realize what I do have.  I have friendships that have lasted years and have crossed oceans.  My friends have become my family and I sometimes can’t believe it when I think about the kind of love I have been shown by them.  Although the desires of my younger self have not been fulfilled the way I pictured them, I have been living a life with so much to be grateful for.  Especially my dearest, closest friends.

Change.  The end of forty-seven gifted me with the end of a romantic relationship and catapulted me from the plans we made for a life together to a completely new job and life in a new country.  “We plan and God laughs” a friend said to me recently.  It was a challenging year for me personally and I realized how resilient I am, despite my thinking I had no more resilience at all, and how strong my will is, especially after having a scary set of health diagnosis in early June.  I’ve spent the summer visiting with people I love so dearly.   I’ve taken daily walks through West Yorkshire, and a few in my beloved Milan, appreciating every leaf, flower, blade of grass, sound and smell.  Each moment with a friend is magic to me.  Every change in the sky and weather is a mystery and I’m loving it.  I’ve continued to spend my time reading, walking thinking meditating and observing. Though I didn’t see it before, I know now that I have always been living my life on my own terms.  Every change, every move, every job, every life live I’ve lived and every invention of myself has really been my choice. Now it is time to be more conscious, more aware and thoroughly prepared to continue on for as long as I can.

Onward.  I have learned things about my mother that have affected me in ways that are becoming clearer each day.  My need to tell stories I now know comes from her; my wanderlust and  need to keep moving and changing – also her; my need to do better, be better so others will look on me favorably – Julia in spades.  As I write this I am on the verge of more changes that are coming. Some I know about and am (naively) planning, some I I’m sure I can’t imagine.  I will proceed with caution because I now keep in mind my friend’s words “… we plan, God laughs.”  I’ve said many times that I fear change, but now I’m starting to understand I thrive on it. Maybe change is the only thing I can plan on.

In my forty-eighth year I will count on change and see where that gets me.

Bring it on fortymotherfuckingeight.

August 3rd, 2016.

Today is also my 47th birthday. Today is also my first full day the first full day of the two years I have committed to living  in Shanghai, China.

Just four weeks ago, I was supposed to move into my lover’s house.  If you told me that would never happen, I would have told you you were crazy.  Four weeks ago I was an exhausted teacher happy for the year to have ended and looking forward to unpacking my things and blending them with his.  He had proposed the idea early on in our relationship.  I was thrilled and excited.  It had been planned for months.  After my mother died in January, we agreed that I should start bringing carloads of my stuff up to his place on the weekends.  So I did.  Every Friday night I raced home, threw as many boxes as I could fit into my car and press my foot to the gas pedal, cruising my usual 80 mph most of the way from my place in Stamford along the I95 corridor to his place in Providence.  All my books and kitchen things had been moved up to his place in Providence, RI.  I was hopeful, and excited for this new chapter.  You know what they say about the best laid plans….

So today, despite all my plans, I am sitting in a staff room in Shanghai,  China.  I am leaving in ten minutes to have dinner with strangers, sho so far, have been lovely and open and warm.

The most impressive thing that happened today is that it rained for about an hour and the city was flooded.  People were crossing the street barefoot.  Cars and vans were stopped in the middle of the street or trying to trudge on through the water.  I went into a store to get a sim card for my phone and when I came out, the streets were bone dry again.  Crazy shit. Today is my birthday and it was my first day in China.

I wonder what tomorrow will be like.


It’s the Fabergé Organics Shampoo principle:  I tell two friends, then they’ll tell two friends and so on, and so on….Being a child of the ’70’s I grew up watching commercials like this: 

I mean, this is marketing genius!  A modestly dressed woman with shiny long brown hair and friendly smile speaking to me as though she were my friend.  She tells me about this great shampoo, then asks me to tell just two other friends.  It’s shampoo, for chrissakes. They just want you to make sure you buy the right one – the original – and that you tell people about it so they’ll buy more of it.  Perfect.

So now, ignore my hair and yours.  Go tell two friends about this blog, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on….

Or, you could just go buy the shampoo.  I hear it’s still available somewhere.

Up until this point, The Ghost didn’t hold an honest job for longer than a few months at a time.

But this is a story about the good times.  Some of the best in fact.  This is the story of salty skin, a party boat, blue eyes filled with tears and two lovers learning the intimacy of their union.  If only for a little, wonderful while.

There was one job The Ghost kept for three consecutive years – excluding about two to three months a year due to wicked weather in the winter months.  It was on a fishing boat that did daily charter trips.  They were called party boats because they were also used occasionally on weekend nights for one to three hour booze cruises.  There were a half dozen boats going out of this particular town near our home.  There were usually two three hour day trips; one was very early leaving at five in the morning, and the next left at nine am.  The trips were three hours long and this meant The Ghost would have to work two shifts daily.   The Ghost did some asking around and decided to pursue one particular boat for employment.  Not having any previous experience with boating or fishing, The Ghost won the captain over with his charm – and he could be very charming.  I guess the captain could see that he was enthusiastic and strong and the rest would take care of itself.

The Ghost loved being near the water.  He loved being on a boat, and he knew a thing or two about cooking fish.  The pay was good but he soon found out it was grueling work.  This position taught him discipline; for getting up early, getting there on time (the boat would leave without him, otherwise) and a whole lot about weather and aquatic life.  I had to drive him to the dock every morning because he had his license revoked a few years previously but I didn’t mind.  So in this way, we were partners.  It was his job, but it was our life together and we were a team.  He was drinking less and really loving the physicality of the job.  He was getting healthier due to the regimented schedule and even lost a few pounds because he was getting more physically fit.  I was enjoying watching his child like enthusiasm and growing interest in fishing.  He became fluent in the language of line and tackle and developed an intuitive sense of when they would have big “hits” (this meant that fish were biting the bait on the hooks) just by looking out the window and gauging the weather.  His skin was soaked with sun and salt at the end of his long days.  His blue eyes began to sparkle with joy.

The Ghost loved coming  back to the dock with lots of happy fishermen whose buckets were full of the fresh catch of the day.  When his boat went out from that particular inlet on the south shore of Long Island, they would find mostly fluke, flounder, porgy and blackfish.  A little further out into ocean waters, they would get striped bass and further out on full day trips, they would find big stripped bass and blue fish.  Ocean fishing was a favorite of The Ghost’s.  He loved the action of the rougher waters and the constant hits on the customers’ lines.  Every day on the water was different and I think that’s why he loved this job so much.  The Ghost was also very much a people person.  He was outgoing and could find a way to start a conversation and connect to anyone.  He made lots of friends while working on the party boat.  He would chat with the guys who worked on the neighboring boats and occasionally he would also make a connection with one of the customers who would request trips based on when The Ghost was working.  There were days when he would have a beer with the Captain and other deck hands after a trip – but only one.  The Captain, a quiet man in his mid thirties who rarely looked you in the eye, gave the impression he had seen too much and wanted to see much less.  He never took off his hat, a broken down dirty army green hat that his brown waves curled up against.  He had a beard like the Gorton’s Fisherman minus the mustache and pipe.  The Captain was against drunkenness and drug use.  He made it clear from the start that would not be tolerated. The Ghost heeded this warning.  He was particularly serious about not doing any drugs because after a few trips on the boat, realized he would need to be completely clear headed.  The Ghost use to say to me, “The sea can take us at any time – it’s stronger than we can imagine.”

One particular benefit of this job for both of us, was the increased time we were able to spend together.  He was home and finished with work and cleaned up by about three o’clock in the afternoon.  I was usually home by four o’clock in the afternoon if I worked the early shift and opened the bookstore where I was the manager.  So, we often had time to go to the beach, cook dinner together and have long romantic summer evenings. There even came a point when he would voluntarily do laundry or clean up around the house and even have dinner ready for me by the time I got home on my late nights.  He really did make an effort and those were the days when I couldn’t wait to get home to him and be wrapped in his arms.

As I said, these were some of the best times we spent together.  We were very much in love.   I was driving him to the docks early in the morning and though it was only a ten minute drive each way, it was still four hours before I had to be at work myself.  I didn’t mind.  Things were going well for us both.  There was money coming in and we seemed to be focused on the same goals in terms of our life together.  Our days off were by far the best.  We would try to coordinate them so we would be off together.  After his first two months on the party boat, The Ghost was converted into a full fledged angler.  We went to the local West Marine shop to buy matching overall surf fishing waders in hunter green; giant rubber overalls that were a stiff onesie from boot to shoulder strap.  The top of the smallest pair came up to my chest (me being all of 5’1″), while his came up to his waist.  We bought shiny new surf poles, a giant tackle box and and all the accessories.  The Ghost would spend nights organizing the goodies in his tackle box, re-stringing his pole and teaching me how to do the same.  Each day he learned something new from the captain and enthusiastically share the information with me at night.  The Ghost began reading The Fisherman Magazine, and listening to the Fishing Report on AM radio.  I think something about this experience replaced his childhood pigeon coop passion.  He was able to do this on his own terms and because he was a man now, no one was able to get in his way.  Eventually, he got into his own way, but like I said, this story is about the good times.

Things went on like this for a while and The Ghost reach a point, if just for a while, of calm and happiness.  We also began to explore our spirituality together and decided to return to church.  We attended services on Sunday, taking communion tougher and eventually both volunteered for the parish San Genaro feast.  I worked in the kitchen with the ladies making acres of sausage and peppers, while he chummed up to the guys and ran the concessions selling tickets for rides, soda, fries and beer.  We were becoming a part of the community and growing closer by the day.

Our union was so stormy, like the sea itself.  There were so many ups and downs, mostly due to his chemical excesses, and my inability to cope with them.  Interestingly, it was the days of fishing together when I felt closest to The Ghost.  We had those ridiculous waders on, in the moments just before the sun rose in the horizon before us, together in our purpose but silent.  There was communication without words – the pass of a hook,  him re-baiting my hook and throwing out some chum to lure the fish before I reached the bait bucket or tugging on my line to see if I’d got a hit.  We’d steal moment to hold hands and kiss while our poles were nestled in the white pole holders buried deep in the sand.  I remember clearly one time I caught him looking at me with tears in his big blue eyes.  He stood there with a ribbon of pink and orange dancing in the sky behind him, looking at me with his head turned away from his pole and said nothing.  In that moment, I knew how happy he was, and how he couldn’t say it in words.  “I know,” I said.  “Me too.”

 Fishing Wisdom I learned from those very beautiful days:

Some things take time and patience, but the stillness of the wait can stop your heart with its beauty.

While you’re waiting, don’t concentrate on what hasn’t come along; appreciate the beauty of what is before you now.

Any experience requires all your senses.  Be glad you have them.

It can get rough out there, but there may be hidden treasures in rough waters.

The best catch might come in the darkest wee hours when the rest of the world is sleeping.

Anything that hooks you could make your day or might potentially be bad news.

I still can’t tell the difference between a Fluke and a Flounder.  Either way, you probably shouldn’t trust a fish that has both eyes on the same side of it’s face specifically so it can hide on the ocean floor- camouflaged- and still see everything that’s going on.

Fishing… well, it’s never really about the fish.

I close my eyes.

February 17, 2015 — 2 Comments

I close my eyes.

I close the door to  Via Sant’Orsola No.1 and turn right.  My feet begin to walk.  I am wearing the red patent leather flats I bought in the shop on the little street behind the Duomo.  What was it called? I can’t remember.  They are making a click clack sound on the damp cobblestones as I approach Via San Maurilio. I turn to my left and consider the church on the corner for a moment.  Yellow with white florid details.  Paint chipping.  There is grass in front.  An old man walks his bouncy brown dog.  My eyes move back to my shoes and up my bare legs and I see the hem of my skirt which stops exactly mid-calf.  It is pale yellow cotton with little red and white flowers.  I have a small red handbag on my left forearm.  With both hands I turn up the crisp white color of my sleeveless blouse.   The old man with the dog nods approvingly in my direction.  The morning sun is pouring through spaces between the buildings.  I spot Ale through the window of the bar.  He is behind the counter making cappuccino for the lawyer with the blue pinstripe suit.  He has a red handkerchief in his left lapel.  His hand is waving in the air as he leans against the bar, no doubt telling Ale about his latest case.   Ale sees me through the window.  He smiles and waves.  I smile and wave.  I smell the warm buttery brioche (that’s what Italians call croissant) but I keep walking.  A Vespa purrs behind me.  I step to my right so it can pass.  The street is narrow and bumpy.  Cobblestones.  The Vespa shoots past carrying a handsome young man wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and a perfectly pressed beige Armani suit.  I read the blue street sign on the side of the building as he passes.  Via Santa Marta.  I stop walking and say this to myself several times before I continue on my way.  Buongiorno, signora!  I look to my left and am greeted by a smile and wave from the man hosing down the concrete.  I smile, I wave and continue my walk.  I hear the dinging of the trams passing on the main road just ahead.  Now the shop owners are out unlocking and opening their steel gates and preparing for their customers.  It is morning in Milano.

At this point I feel the tears falling from my eyes.  And just when I think I can’t take anymore, I close my eyes tighter and walk one block further.  I turn another corner. The sun is brighter now.  Right here from my grey chair.

I close my eyes.

Billsta on the Balcony

February 16, 2015 — 2 Comments

I originally brought Billsta home to my mother’s house from Ikea about five years ago.  My mother needed a small breakfast table and it was the perfect size for her small kitchen.  I remember putting it together by following one of those wordless direction pamphlets that comes with everything from there.   It was simple enough because there were only three parts to put together: the smooth round 27 1/2″ melamine table top, the 40″ base and the four piece foot stand. I fished out the correct screws and had it put together in a few minutes with very little effort.  The chairs that match have short rounded backs and I really like the way my body fits perfectly in them.   Billsta is of a sturdy Swedish design that didn’t look prone to wobbling, which I loved.  I smoothed my hand across the surface in sweet satisfaction.  there would be no splintering or splitting.  For years my mother had a table in her kitchen that wobbled as soon as someone sat down.  All through meals it would wobble and that became the norm.  But Billsta would never wobble.  Swedish engineering made sure of that.

We sold my mother’s house in the spring of last year, and by June I moved to a new apartment on the thirteenth floor.  I had the movers put Billsta on the west facing balcony.  It was summer when I moved in and I thought it would be the perfect place to have my tea or coffee in the morning.  Billsta looked much smaller in my place than it had at my mother’s house.  It looked great on the balcony and left plenty of room for a recliner and end table that I had my eye on, but still haven’t purchased.  I used Billsta often, sipping tea and occasionally coffee.   Resting my mug on its smooth melamine surface.  The balcony is high enough and far away from neighbors that I didn’t feel awkward shuffling out in my bathrobe with my hair a mess to execute my morning ritual;  tea in my mug, feet propped up on the second chair, and the morning light dancing on the glass of the downtown buildings now pink, then orange then settling nicely into a cheery yellow.  Billsta and I were getting along very nicely.

I brought the chairs inside the first time it rained.  They have these little round beige cushions on them, and I didn’t want them to get wet and squishy.  I brought them inside again when I was traveling in the summer months.  I brought them in yet again when I started teaching in the fall because I didn’t want an unexpected rain to ruin them.  I found other uses for the chairs, like standing on one when I needed to store something at the top of my closet, or when cleaning the top shelf of my tall bookcases.  I even sat on one as I read a book one afternoon.  Billsta stayed outside.  I even thought of bringing Billsta inside for dinner.  You should know that Billsta looks unimposing, but is actually heavy and I just didn’t want to be weighed down by it.  I thought it would just get in my way and invade my space. I have no real need for Billsta in my immediate living space.  It’s well suited on the balcony.

It is now mid-February and for the past few days I’ve been writing on my laptop occasionally looking out the glass doors at Billsta.  It’s been out there on the balcony all these months withstanding sun, rain, wind and more recently, snow. I’ve only now just noticed that all this time Billsta looked so dependable and solid out there on the balcony.  But now I see it moved from the place I originally had it.  It’s closer to the railing now.  In fact, one of the feet of the base is under the black iron railing tucked into the four inch space between the concrete and the bottom of the iron railing.  I have a feeling Billsta is distancing itself away from me.  Did Billsta feel so neglected that it slowly made its way to the edge?

I  walk across the room now and upon closer inspection, I see Billsta’s  smooth melamine surface is warped.  It is slightly slanted now – not much – just enough from me to notice its disappointed frown.  There is some water resting there.  Looking like a stain of tears.  The table in it’s dying has come to life. Billsta has given up on me but still stands strong.  In the cold, gray afternoon, with the still white sky, I realize there has been no one resting their teacup on Billsta.  No one running their hands across its once smooth malamine surface.  I haven’t been there to appreciate Billsta as it was meant to be enjoyed.  it’s become a dirty, cold, warped shell of a table.  Damaged from neglect and disuse.

And now, it seems, I have a decision to make.

Right View, Wrong City

February 15, 2015 — Leave a comment

Sipping hot Earl Grey from my favorite chair and looking at this view doesn’t suck.

IMG_5472Here, on the thirteenth floor, I can see the city center’s concrete lego bricks lay in their deceitful permanence.  There’s a major train line and interstate highway that would sit at the foreground of this photo.  I have the luxury of knowing what the weather and traffic are doing before I leave my place just by looking out the window.  The thing is, I live in Connecticut.  I have nothing against the state or its people, but I am a New Yorker through and through.  When I walk out the lobby doors of my building, I won’t be able to hail down a cab, walk two blocks to the subway or stumble across a great new gallery in the next neighborhood on my walk after dinner.  I can’t pick up Sunday’s New York Times late Saturday afternoon, grab a nosh at Zabar’s and catch a last minute foreign film, all without the need for a car.  I’ve not passed a pile of garbaged and feared the presence of rats or giant cockroaches on my walks here.  There’s no risk here.  No everyday adventure.  No grit. I belong in New York City.  I’d love to make that happen.  This is not a negative view of where I am.  Just the opposite.  It’s a realization.  An embrace of my most authentic self.  I feel grateful every day that I have this apartment, this view, this home but…

I’m pretty sure it’s in the wrong city.

For now, it will have to do.  And like I said, it doesn’t suck.


The Ghost never gave me anything he didn’t take back and sell.  There was one gift he gave me that he never knew about.  At first, neither did I.

I forgave him as he beat me on the last night I’d ever seen him.  That was July 4th, 1999.  With each blow I asked God to forgive him.  I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.  I could tell his pain was worse than mine, in fact I was numb to his blows.

I knew his story.  He told me about how his childhood was stolen from him.  He told me about the pigeon coop.  How he use to train pigeons and built a coop for them on the roof of his building with the help of his stepfather.  Dick is what he called him.  I never found out if that was his real name – short for Richard – or just what he called him.  Dick did what all pedophiles do; gained this nine year old boy’s trust  – seduced him as it were – with the lure of pigeons.  Building a coop and teaching the young, blue eyed boy all about bird flight training.  These were not “street rat” pigeons, mind you, but flights, tiplets… those are the only names I remembered from what he told me.  There are a whole group of bird flyers and trainers all over NYC, the outer boroughs – and the world.  Apparently flying pigeons is a thing.

The Ghost grew up in The Bronx.  In his neighborhood it was not uncommon for there to be coops on the rooftops of buildings.  He told me how he used to run up to the roof every day after school to clean the coop and feed the pigeons.  He spoke about it with such pride.  He use to compete with the other kids on the buildings across the street and a few blocks down.  He’d brag about how he had the cleanest coop and the nicest birds.  One day while he was up there cleaning the coop, Dick came up to have a chat with him.  He stood there with his Brill Creamed hair, thin lips and his pen protector holding always exactly three Bic pens.  He smelled of Old Spice and Doublemint gum.  The Ghost always got a strange feeling when he was around Dick.  He told me something about Dick creeped him out and gave him the chills.  The instincts of a child are powerful.

So, he endured sexual abuse by his stepfather.  Of course he told his mother immediately.  She just stared at him and then told him to stop telling lies.   Accused her golden haired blue-eyed cherub of lying.  Lying and trying to ruin her happiness.  Again.  She’d blamed him for everything since he was three.  He was the bad one and Mickey was the good one.  It had always felt that way, at least.  The Ghost was always trying to win back her love, but his attempts were futile at best.

She blamed him for everything.  You see, when The Ghost was three years old, his mother told him to draw a bath for his brother and himself.  Bathing together was not uncommon, as the boys were only a year apart.  Irish twins, everyone called them.  Proud to take on this big boy job, he marched into the bathroom plugged up the tub with the rubber stopper, and turned one of the handles.  He couldn’t reach the  second handle but he turned the one closest to him.  The one with the letter “H” on it.  He’s seen his mommy do this many times.  She had tossed her finger under the tap but he wasn’t sure why, but he did that to.  The tub began to fill and he gave the Mr. Bubble bottle a squeeze.  He watched the bubbles grow a bit.  He left the bathroom and went to find his brother, Mickey.

Mickey, short for Michael, was in their room.  The Ghost announced it was time for their bath, and as the boys undressed the Ghost pulling his shirt of his head, Mickey shouted, “Last one in is a rotten egg!”  and ran out of the room.  The Ghost wanted to be first in the tub.  He fumbled with is shirt, but got it off.  He started looking for his Popeye doll to bring to the tub.  In the background he could hear the tub filling and his mother talking on the phone in the kitchen.  She was cooking dinner.  Irish stew.  Mickey’s favorite.  The smells were wafting through the small Bronx apartment.  The Ghost was getting hungry.  He found his Popeye doll and turned toward their bedroom door.  Before he could get to the bathroom he heard his brother screaming.  A scary sound unlike any he’d heard before.  The Ghost froze.  He peered out the bedroom door and saw his mother running.  He walked slowly toward the bathroom, the dark wood floorboards creaking under his feet and stopped when he reached threshold of the bathroom.  His mother was screaming “Why did you do this?  Why him?  This is all your fault!”  She cradled Mickey’s shivering body, fell on the floor and rocked her scalded baby in her arms.  Mickey was screaming and crying.  His wrinkled red body was shiny from the water and he had Mr. Bubbles shiny foam bubbles in his hair.  It all happened so fast.  All The Ghost could see was the bright red wrinkled skin on the right side of Mickey’s face and neck.  He looked like a monster from one of the comic books at the corner store.  He’d later learn the monster’s name “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.  It scared him.  That wasn’t Mickey?  What was wrong with him?  I was looking for Popeye.  What happened?  Mommy, what did I do?

Mickey never healed completely.  They were able to do a skin graft, but he spent his life feeling self-conscious and fought off stares all through his adolescence.  Eventually he married and had children of his own.  He grew up hating his brother.  Resenting what he had done to him.  He blamed The Ghost for his disfigurement.  So did their mother.  By the time The Ghost encountered Dick, there was no one to listen.  No one to help.  No one who believed him.

It was the beginning of the end and this child was doomed to a life of mistrust and misfortune.

When he told me this story, I knew The Ghost had given me a gift but I could not identify it at the time.  It took some time for me to come to this realization, but I came to understand that the gift he gave me was gratitude.  Because of his story, I was able to truly appreciate my happy childhood.

It was my happy childhood that saved me when The Ghost’s damaged childhood came to visit him in the form of drugs, alcohol and the abuse he inflicted on my body.  There came a time when I could no longer take his blows.  I could no longer let his words penetrate my spirit.  For years I would tell my story saying I had no choice but to leave.  I had no choice because he beat me out of our home.  The truth is, I knew I could not take one more moment in his presence.  The love was gone long before that night.  I don’t know what made me stay.  If I stayed I knew he would kill me and I wasn’t ready to be dead.

So I left with nothing but the clothes on my back – not even shoes on my feet – and the gift he didn’t even know he had given me.