is to be read from the beginning, as most things are.


fin confetti
start there ^


I might have adopted some of his anger. I used to hate everything about him. I remember doing homework in the kitchen late at night. Most of the lights were dimmed, which made the room turn orange. My dad’s large ass was planted, as it always was, in his recliner. The blue fabric seat had faded from his consistent weight, and it creaked heavily when he pushed against the arms for leverage to get up. My dad, not even turning from the screen, suggested that I start running more. He asked me to get him a glass of water, as he did every night. But not just any glass of water. I couldn’t use the blue glasses, because they were horrible. And I needed to fill the glass a quarter full of ice, no more. I couldn’t stand his precise directions anymore: these are the kind of people you avoid, always water plants twice, pick up sticks before you mow the lawn, separate the forks and spoons in the dishwasher. I filled his glass with purified water, let a drop of spit fall onto the ice, and stirred it with my dirty finger.

I used to look at the window in the TV room to see in the reflection what he was watching. I wanted to hate what I saw. Most times I saw a distorted nature show, or re-runs of the Andy Griffith show. The colors and shapes disconnected, skipped around on the window. A few times I saw blurry images of naked bodies. A bare chest would dance across the square reflection, two mouths would meet, their sharp features making them look angry. I would pretend to do my homework, push the end of a tough eraser onto my forehead, and watch the artificial pixels dance across his large square glasses. It was as if he turned his head just right, they would arrange to form a picture.


{so it ends.}


part 9

My father became fully estranged when my older brother Paul was about two. My family took a trip up to the blistering cold of Buffalo where my grandmother pulled out a large kitchen knife and threatened to “take care of” the product of my father not marrying a Polish woman.

I wonder if when I’m older I’ll think of my childhood in the same way, as just a collection of bad memories. There were always good things, and comparing my fortunes to the way my father’s impoverished life was spent always made me think that there was nothing for me to complain about. But I can’t help but remember the bad times. The temper, the laziness, the anger.

I remember riding in the backseat of my father’s red blazer when he got cut off by a motorcycle. Enraged, he gripped his fat fingers around the steering wheel and pushed the gas until he was only a few from the speeding bike. My mother, screaming in the passenger seat, pleaded for him to stop. We turned off of our exit. The angry biker was not only following us, but mouthing “fuck you” and displaying a thick gloved middle finger. Now my dad sped up only to break sharply, keeping his squinted eyes on the rear-view mirror. All I could think about was the sticky sound of his fingers squeezing the wheel.


part 8

Walking through the sticky mass of concrete blocks that make up the internal employee walkways, I couldn’t help but wonder what Tallahassee looked like when my dad was pouring concrete on the ground I walked on. What he was like back then. I wondered if they had expanded the mall since he worked on it, if the innards of the building were something my father’s hands had touched. I’ve seen photos of him back then, much slimmer and sporting a stringy pony tail. I’ve inherited his toothy grin, the way his whole face seems involved in a laugh. My round eyes squint like his, and the tops of my cheeks lift toward the ceiling.

There are very few photos of my father before he met my mother. His past is something I’ve had to piece together from the few times he left himself vulnerable and let a story of his childhood slip out.

I never saw a photo of him as a smiling child.

There’s one photo that’s outlasted his purges of the past. He can’t be more than four years old, wearing a pair of tattered overalls, and placing one tiny hand on a dusty cow. His mouth makes a straight horizontal line, and the grainy quality of the picture makes everything look dirty, even his usually bright eyes. Money was tight. The children got one pair of jeans a year. Once, when he was 8, my father helped his dad chop up a fallen tree. The blade slipped off of the tree and went straight into his lower calf. The whole time he lay there bleeding all he could think of was the inevitable beating he would get from his mother when he got home.

Sometimes I would get information from my mother. We would sit on the dense carpet of my room among my piles of clutter that drove her insane, and I would ask about his many siblings, his past two marriages, his navy life. It was always easier talking to my mother. My dad would sigh heavily if I probed too far, or he would start lecturing. If I asked him about his school, he would go off about Catholicism, nuns abusing children, and institutional religion. My mom just talked to me like a person. Sometimes I think I should have let his past die as he wished, and asked about my mother and her family instead. I knew a similar amount about their childhoods, but because my father’s was forbidden, I tried to eat all of it up.

When I was nine I asked my Dad what happened with his past marriages. He paused, still holding a half-dissected pineapple and a juicy knife. His eyelids wrinkled closer and he said “I caught one in bed with my brother, and the other in bed with a woman.” He resumed meticulously slicing the soft fruit, and handed me the tough core to chew on. I couldn’t help but wonder “he has a brother?”


part 7

In third grade, I devised a plan for me and my two best friends to start saving up all our tooth fairy and Christmas money, so that when we graduated high school we could buy my grandparents house in New Jersey and live in it together. My dad hated my grandparents. He called my grandma a wacko hippie, bringing up times when she joined cult-ish help groups, or when she asked my brother “what color is your headache?” I didn’t care. I just liked roaming the creaky halls of their old house.

I drew out the four story house from memory, sketching all the rooms and furniture, and carefully labeling everything. That’s the only way I really knew how to mimic my mother, the kitchen designer. I couldn’t read through her two worry lines nestled between her eyebrows. I could absorb everything she said, but she said it with such indifference compared to the rantings of my father that I didn’t feel I really knew her. Instead I watched her work, I watched her bony fingers gracefully pull out a scale rule, push three times on the tiny silver back of her drafting pencil, and trace a perfect line of miniature rows of oak cabinets.


part 6

It was pretty slow at Barnie’s during the weekdays. Although the fountain would gush away and the canned sound of pop music would float through the halls, there was a sort of busied silence to the place. Barnie’s was in a corner spot right in the middle of the food court, affording an oblong view. I remember feeling like I was in a fish bowl, floating just above the ground while people glided by. The two mall walkers, Jeannie and Brenda, would swish by at least five times before stopping to get a specially made coffee. “Penny,” at least that’s what we called her, would circle the food court all morning. Her fat hands grasped the same 40 ounce Styrofoam cup every day. Her wrinkled eyes surveyed the floor for loose change.

Ashley, who worked with me, planted a few decoy coins for Penny. Once she super glued a shiny copper penny to the tiled floor in our store. Without hesitation, Penny cruised over to find crushing disappointment when the coin didn’t budge. Another time Ashley put a quarter on its side, resting on the baseboard in front of the cash register. Penny stopped mid walk, her eyes fixed on the bright object, but decided to pass it up.

I felt a strange connection with the mall employees and the irregular patrons. Sure, during the weekends the mall would be full of families tugging screaming children or pairs of women pretending to be young and single, showing as much powdered cleavage as possible. But the regulars, the people that chose to spend time in air conditioned halls smelling faintly of Cinnabon, grease, and cleaning product, were the real gems. They were real people, with real quirks. There was the state worker pair, a father and son, who got matching cappuccino’s and chatted about mobile homes, the Cuban cleaning man who got a special made cortidito (a sticky mixture of espresso and sugar), and the paranoid schizophrenic who took breaks from coughing up a drink order to turn her head and scream “you’ve ruined the best years of my life.”

They’re what my father would call “weirdoes.” He seemed to hate everyone my mother liked. My parents always talked business at home. It seemed like every time my mother told him about a new client, what they did for a living, what style they liked, he always had something negative to say. Suzie Penley, a Cuban lady who always grabbed my arm with her wrinkled fingers, ended up getting close with my mother. I went with my mother to Suzie’s house that was littered with painted wicker furniture and bright abstract art. They talked business a bit, but Suzie ended up talking about finding her sister’s dead body. My mother always put people at ease. But she would go home and tell my father about them. He would snap at her for spending too much time with one client, telling her that people were taking advantage of her. Sometimes she faintly disagreed, but most times her eyes turned off, letting him eat into her.


part 5

Mornings were my favorite time to work. I couldn’t help but fall into the opening routine. One liter of hot water for the three types of iced tea, just under three buckets of ice filled up the steel tank out front, count each register down from $200.00. It got to the point where I didn’t have to think about it anymore. My body sleepily moved around the store, filling up sugar and cream, turning the big key in the gate, and squeaking it open.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, seeing as I always had trouble waking up early.
I would let my alarm run for hours, if my family let me. My parents had their unique ways of waking up grouchy teenagers.

My father was impatient in his approach.
He most enjoyed two loudly exclaimed phrases: “wakey wakey, eggs and bakey,” and “nobody likes a grouchbowski.”

Grouchbowski, by definition is an endearing form of the noun ‘grouch’. i.e.: grumbler, killjoy, crab, spoilsport; all of which are delightful words. Used frequently in an attempt to both annoy and cheer up a grouchy Polack. The term ‘Polack’ derives from a misconception that the word “Polak” means a polish male. In reality, it’s just one of those words, those ethnic slurs that only similar people may use. Except my father wouldn’t let me. The word Grouchbowski grew in popularity during the winter season in eastern Poland. When all poles were grouchy, and many were bowski’s. The word is used most properly in early hours, in cold weather, or when said pole is going off to work or school. Use of the word often elevates such behavior: sulking, moroseness, and showing discontent in an irritable way. This makes it most commonly used when a pole is leaving, rather than arriving.

My mother, with her soft and plushy post-partum body, would turn on my light, crawl into bed with me, and place her cold feet next to mine.
Even in Florida she was always cold. She would stay under there until she had sucked all of the warmth from my body, asking me in a murmur what I was going to do that day, what clothes she should wash for me, when I was going to clean my room. I would always reply sharply, in sleepy grunts, but her voice always like distant music, would keep me from falling back into that dark sleep.



New. Mine. Yours.
Different? Somehow.


part 4

My father always pushed the idea of good work ethic on his children. Every birthday, we got new freedom, as well as new responsibility. Just before my thirteenth birthday, he sat down on the long white peninsula in our kitchen, his huge forearms taking up so much space. He was always so serious with me. In a strict tone, he would explain that as we got older, we grew the ability to do more to help around the house. “Thirteen’s a big year,” he said “you’re one step closer to being an adult.” In exchange for a half hour tacked onto my bedtime, I got the privilege of mowing the lawn. I never knew how to act when he started one of his lectures. My head would bob in agreement awkwardly, and I would try not to break eye contact. I never knew what to do with my body. My fingers would grab each other, as if in prayer.

In the summers, when all I wanted to do watch cartoons, he made sure to keep me busy.
We had this small garden in the backyard, mostly green beans and a few other root vegetables, and we got to weed the damn thing.

I liked how his hands looked covered in dark soil.
His wide fingernails would be stuffed full of the chalky dirt, and his large pores would hold grains of the dark stuff. I wanted my hands to look just like his. When he wasn’t looking I stuffed my fingers into the freshly hoed soil, trying to mimic the roughness of his hands.

After doing yard work, all the kids would jump into the pool.
I liked the feeling of leaping into the cool water with all my hot clothes on. All the sticky grass and warm dirt would peel off my body. It was one of these moments that my siblings persuaded me to swim to the deep-end. Although I could swim well enough, I would cling to the side of the angled pool, refusing to push off into waters too deep for my toes to touch. My brother Paul always seemed annoyed by my refusal to let go of the railing. I imagine I begged him and my sister to stay in the shallow end so I wouldn’t get lonely. Even though I had siblings, I was lonely. That’s part of being the youngest. The novelty of having a brother or sister had worn off before I came along. I always felt I was never allowed to talk like the rest of my family did. It seemed like every time my mouth opened, my brother’s nostrils would flare up and my sister would start exhaling. By the time I started speaking, I wished I hadn’t ever started.


part 3

My first job was at Barnie’s, a coffee shop at the mall. Before I came along, my dad poured the foundation of Governor’s Square Mall. I couldn’t help but think of him, especially when the halls were empty. The mall seemed to breathe and move on its own. Early in the morning, when the sun creeps into the large glass top in the center of the mall, the halls are silent. Slowly, life emerges from the sleepy building as metal door gates squeak open, the tired cleaning crews scraping large push-brooms across the shiny tiled floor. Every day at 8:00am the large fountain jerks to life and the silence is dead.

I remember being overwhelmed by the espresso machine.
In training, they save it for last. Everything was so loud and complicated. The hiss of the steam wand, the drastic change of pitch when it becomes submerged in cold milk, was a whining squeal. It was almost frightening. It reminded me of my father’s warehouse, where everything shook and groaned. There was a pressure hose there, one that spewed air when the little brass button was pushed. When I was in elementary school, my dad would put the hose in his mouth to make his big cheeks flap. He always wanted me to try it, but the air pushed out so hard that it scared me. And I didn’t want my teeth to look like his, almost skeletal.