for fifteen hundred fraught miles.

We survived that trip unscathed.

Others, not so much; he’d crash into a ditch or park on a highway late at night traffic thundering inches away while my parents fought

about who should take the wheel.

I loved my dad, but he was a shitty driver

and the booze sure didn’t help.

After high school, we stopped talking, it hurt so much to love my father that I prayed for a heart of stone,

like God gave Pharaoh.

The years of praying for him to be healed hadn’t worked; he kept messing up, breaking down, throwing our lives out of orbit, but I still thought of God

as a kind of Cranky Dad who might consider my plea if I asked politely.

One afternoon, my father found me in tears— I’d missed the bus and was going to be fired.

I needed that job cuz no college would have me back then.

Daddy’s face softened, for a moment he was the father who’d take us out of school on a whim to go mountain climbing or buy ice cream for every kid on the block.

“You’re too young

to hitchhike alone,” he said.

“I’ll go with you, make sure you’re safe.”

strawberry-blonde fairy tales

My mother, my sister, and I got up at five on that July morning,

three women with nothing in common save blood, disappointment, and the inherited, trauma-fed ability

to stay silent in every situation, we united in the need for a televised dream live, from London

A multigenerational fantasy, the about-to-be-princess, sewn into confectionary silk taffeta, rode in a glass bubble pulled by white horses, a virgin paraded for the masses, Madonna of diamonds and luck. Ten thousand pearls hung from the dress, the fruit of relentless irritation, the day’s slippery portent of doom though, in the manner of crowds, no one noticed.

Lady Diana Spencer was three months older than me,

raised on the same fairy tales and lies.

My mother, my sister, and I ate strawberries, sprinkled with sugar, swimming in cream, as we cooed like doves watching the fantasy come to life. I’d long ago selected myself as Prince Andrew’s bride,

cuz Charles was too much work.

My sister reserved herself for Prince Edward, and our mother looked forward to tea with the Queen.

Cinderella’s country cousins, we giggled, our parsonage a small island in whispering fields of corn.

That morning gave me the only peek I ever had inside my mother’s imagination, and thus planted me eternally on #TeamDiana in the hopes I’d be allowed to visit again.

But recessionals play in a minor key; the princess pricked her finger on a spindle, was shattered by mirrors, cursed by fairies, banished from the kingdom, and hunted down by dogs. Trolls hide under bridges and that’s where she died.

Sixteen years after the wedding I woke in the darkness for the funeral.

My mother self-exiled to Florida sister long lost to us both, I watched alone, no strawberries, no sugar, no cream, sipped coffee as black horses pulled the coffin through the weeping city.

Rich people scorn the way the poor buy lottery tickets,

but what would you pay for an hour of untainted hope, of happiness unfettered?

If the ticket had my mother’s name on it I’d dance across minefields for the chance.


Living on a pig farm did not motivate me to go to college

not picking stones from the fields nor burning off crop stubble

nor penning up ducks trying to escape nor plucking their feathers after slaughter so they could be served at Christmas.

Working on a dairy farm didn’t motivate me, either. I liked the sound of slow-breathing cows, bruises from kicking hooves shoveling manure, herding the girls in from the green, chased by a bull once I sprinted and slid to safety under an electric fence,

freezing, sweating, muscle-burning work made me grateful

I wasn’t stuck inside.

No, it was my job in hell, I mean, at the mall, selling shirts folding sweaters, moldering into a minimum-wage service clone, clothing store sorter of boxes of socks of urgent priority, avoider of the manager, my mom, momager of a different kind, she had high hopes for me, business school for sure,

then the chance to follow in her footsteps and be every bit as miserable as she, circling from mall to television set, television set to the mall.

For years I thought that was her plan but recently I’ve begun to doubt it, remembering her proud satisfaction when I made a better life for myself.

I think that giving me the most boring job in the history of the world

was my mom’s way of loving me.

lazer focused

I woke up at three thirty a.m., was in the barn milking by four, headed home for a long shower, then drove to school

Onondaga Community College,

home of the Lazers,

went to all my classes and stayed awake, asked questions, did my homework, studied hard and always sat in the front row.

When you are shoveling

cow poop to pay your tuition, you want to get your money’s worth, every dime.

Some people grow up knowing what they want to do: they color inside the lines, study at the right school,

check off the boxes, and

in the end

they are handed the grown-up life they’ve dreamed of.

Laurie Halse Anderso's Books