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Mother's Day

Mum arrived to live with us on Valentine's Day. She’d packed her beloved juicer, her favourite bed linen, a photo of her grandmother, and the good kitchen knives. “Not the good knives,” her partner said when she left him, but she took them anyway. She abandoned the town where she’d spent her entire life and drove eight hours south, down the spine of the North Island. In Wellington, she drove up the ramp of the Awatere, the ferry that crosses rough Cook Strait to the drowned green valleys of the top of the south. As she left northern soil, her mobile phone grew hot, and died. She took it as a sign. As signs go, it was a powerful one, but somewhat inconvenient considering she hadn’t told anyone she was going, couldn’t remember her email password, wasn’t on Facebook, and didn’t have anyone’s contact details written down. When her friends rang home, her partner told them she’d left, and that was that. As far as they could tell, she had simply vanished. When she reached Nelson, Mum unpacked her bags into my spare upstairs room, made up the bed with her good linen sheets, put the knives in the kitchen drawer, the juicer into the top cupboard, and tacked her grandmother’s photograph to the bedroom wall. As summer turned to autumn, she read books, attacked our hilly and unkempt garden, weeded the paths, arranged her perfumes on the bathroom windowsill, and went for long morning walks up the steep hills to gaze at Nelson Haven, the sea shining bright silver in the sunshine like polished steel. She drank too much wine and cooked Thai green curries and roast chickens and an enormous heavy carrot cake, and then another one just to perfect it. Scones, with butter and cream and jam. I gained three kilograms. Up north, her friends and family began to murmur, and worry. They couldn’t reach her, so they found me, and I began to field phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages....

If The Tooth Be Known

On the day I was shot down, my stress level seemed much lower than it was during many of my previous hundred and thirty-four missions. I’m not superstitious, but I would note later that it was the thirteenth mission of my second combat cruise. While most of our squadron mates made their way to breakfast on the aircraft carrier, our flight of four A-4 Skyhawks roared with determination across the North Vietnam coast. At our alternate target on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the jungle would absorb our rockets like a lake taking on a hailstorm. That all changed when flight lead decided the overcast that covered Ha Tinh Province was breaking up and we should go down to take a look. Two ker-plunk’s preceded one tremendous KA-BOOM and an unnerving jolt to my aircraft. I keyed the mike button and tried to report in my most professional naval aviator voice, “unh, this is Warpaint two, I’ve been hit.” I got an inkling the situation was headed south when I heard Warpaint three transmit in a frantic voice, “Warpaint two is hit! He’s on fire and out of control!” Oh shit! That got my attention. It was worse than I thought. My day and the A-4 I was flying went rapidly downhill after that. The next five seconds played in slow motion while flames burst forward from the engine intakes, engine rpm plummeted to zero, controls froze and Ha Tinh Province started up to meet me. Reports of pilots who died because they stayed too long with a non-flyable aircraft passed through a part of my mind, but another part of my mind told my hand, just pull the ejection handle. Ejecting from an airplane turned into a fireball imparts a mixture of thrill and terror, but parachuting into a country that’s at war with you is a life changing experience. The ground war was something I read about in “Stars and Stripes” and “Newsweek,” from the comfort of the squadron ready room on the carrier and I had zero interest in becoming a part of it. The most meaningful thing for me about the ground war was my cousin Gary. I had met Gary when he was 2, shortly after his mother -- my aunt – was killed in a car wreck on the way to visit us in Oklahoma from California. His bereaved dad let him spend the summer with the aunts, uncles and cousins who fell under his special charm that included a mixture of a winning smile and a flair for mischief. After his mother died, life didn’t come easy for Gary, so I wasn’t surprised when I heard he had left home at 17 to join the U.S. Marine Corps. I wrote to him on my way to Vietnam. He wrote back that he also was headed to Vietnam and would be looking for me from the ground. We were as far apart as Oklahoma and California, but now there was a battlefield connection. Every time I flew a mission in support of ground troops, I thought about Gary and what he might be thinking on the ground below. Now that I had gone down in flames I wondered what might be in store for him.....

Catholic Girls

On a recent autumn day I was putting my daughter’s laundry in her room. Across her wall hang two thin clotheslines with photos that she periodically changes. There are the typical family photos of us, trips, events, celebrations, of the past, always marching backwards in time. There was a new photo clipped to the barely visible clothesline, a photo of my seventh grade classmates from Academic San Ignacio. It was eerie to see all our faces in those scratchy white button-down shirts and dark brown, almost black, plaid chalecos with the school emblem. Everyone’s hair neatly combed back. There we are: Hilda C., Lisette S., Sonia V., Alba, Diana G., and Gretchen I. It is hard for me to remember me then, my life, my classmates, the island, my home. The faces seem out of place here in Montana, a state that did not exist to me as a child in Puerto Rico; had I known of its existence, Montana would have appeared to me as exotic and northernmost in my imagination, full of ice and snow, an all white landscape, perhaps with some igloos. So very different from the huddle of my tiny sweltering tropical island, the swaying of palm trees, the smell of sea salt in the air. And yet here I am now in this snow-scape and it is they, my classmates from Puerto Rico, who appear remote and remind me of a world long left behind. A Catholic world. A world of Hispanic culture. A world of Spanish. A world that reminds me of flesh and blood and sin and sacrifice, of infernal heat, mosquitoes and mangos. ***** My parents escaped the United States the year after they were married. My father, from Storm Lake, Iowa, and my mother, from Janesville, seemed to agree on one essential element. Escaping the mainland. I don’t know if it was that they both grew up in small towns or if they were both seeking something more. But they agreed on the seeking part and it took them abroad. They never returned to the States. My father built a successful career as a partner in one of the big eight accounting firms, Arthur Andersen, opening branches in Europe, Greece, Italy, and later Puerto Rico. When my family moved from Italy to Puerto Rico in the sixties I was five. We arrived on the island with five Italian-born children, and three more would be born in San Juan. Upon our arrival, my mother immediately enrolled those of us old enough, myself included, in a nursery school. This is where I first became Puerto Rican, where I dropped any sense of being from Italy, as much sense of place as a five year old can have, where Italian morphed into Spanish, where English remained the private language, where I first learned of el niño Jesus. This is the first place, this nursery in a concrete house on a street that seemed very far away from our home, with heavy trees and lots of other little kids who spoke Spanish to me, where we learned songs like “Los pollitos dicen pío, pío, pío,” and where the island attached itself to me, heat and all....

The Dreamer

The white flakes falling on Interstate 70 in Colorado have turned into big, burdened blobs of snow gathering on the windshield and hood of Marco’s silver Suzuki. In front of him, the highway is a two-wheel trail barely visible under the flurries. KUH-CHUNK! His car plows into a clump of fallen snow that has flown off a semi-truck. His trip to Denver is turning into a dead end. White-knuckled and wary, Marco pulls off into the tiny town of Stratton and books himself into a hotel.

Build it and They Will Come

"Let’s wake the bastards up,” are the first words I hear. I’ve entered the darkened control room that looks out onto the inmate population of the county jail, and within thirty seconds I realize that I’m going to have a huge problem fitting in.

I take a seat in one of the empty chairs, my presence ignored by the four uniformed deputies, including Corporal McCully. He is one of five people who interviewed me for the position. After about ten minutes, he informs me that Carla, the woman training me, is late. Another five minutes pass, and Carla breezes into the room. Hair bleached blonde, colorful clothes, and lime-green Croc sandals, she is the physical antithesis of the other deputies. With her presence, I feel less alone and, for some reason, less guilty, relieved at where I’ve found myself—behind bars.

- See more at: http://www.themayborn.com/article/build-it-and-they-will-come#sthash.eqq...

Unveiling Hope

Sweat collects under the hijab that hides her long brown hair. The crowded bus emits a pungent odor of stale sweat and garlic, but she is not offended. Jami glances at her sister, Jenna, who does not wear a hijab; her sunlit mane flows to her waist. Freedom not to wear the hijab was a birthday gift from their Dad this year, when Jenna turned fifteen. She begged for it tirelessly. Funny, Jami never considered asking for such a lofty present. - See more at: http://www.themayborn.com/article/unveiling-hope#sthash.7tvySvJW.dpuf

The Girl Who Walked Across Fire

The coals are crunchy. They have been burning for hours, are fresh and hot—somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. The people lining up to walk across them are barefoot, jeans rolled up so a fraying hem string doesn’t catch and light legs up. They have been told to walk. Running leads to tripping, they are told, and no one wants a burned face. I’m not sure why faces will burn but bare feet won’t, but this is what we are told. To take off shoes, roll up our pants, look up. To say “Cool Moss” as a mantra. And then to walk calmly, powerfully, straight into the fire. - See more at: http://www.themayborn.com/article/girl-who-walked-across-fire#sthash.1Jh...

Where the Wild Things Are

Ethan is 7 years old. He’s lived in this apartment his whole life where ten nurses and teachers and doctors and therapists keep vigil over him, testing his blood, his eyes, his heart, his lungs, his ears and his mind. He’s 7 years old, and he only steps outside every other weekend when he is transported to another room in another apartment. Ethan is 7 years old and has never spoken a word. Nor has he ever seen anything that was not within six inches of his face. He has metal devices in his ears like steel antennas and cannot swallow without aspirating. He’ll need heart surgery soon. - See more at: http://www.themayborn.com/article/where-wild-things-are#sthash.YtzwXFU3....

Red Stilettos

I hated my wedding. It’s fifty years later, and I still can’t help thinking back to my sister Lily’s wedding with envy in my heart. It wasn’t about the venue, the dress or the food. My wedding was far more elaborate than Lily’s.

My jealousy is about my father.

Every young girl needs the protection and support of her father when choosing a life partner. Just as my father shrewdly appraised Philip Bogdonoff when he came to court my sister Lily, he would have loved probing the incisive intelligence of the young medical student who came for me. But it was not to be.

A Cigarette on the Champs-Elysées

It is the most famous street in the most beautiful city in the world, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a mile and a quarter of architectural wonder and opulence that crosses through the heart of Paris.

For more than 400 years, the rich and poor, the best and worst have traveled along the granite blocks that form that magnificent thoroughfare. It extends less than a mile and a quarter, runs northwest to connect the Place de la Concorde to Napoleon Bonaparte’s Arc de Triomphe, but it leads its travelers in whatever direction they choose.