I’m sorry for that place you last lived, if that was living. I hated its tired floral décor and it’s endless wings, strewn with wheel chairs, walkers and nurses’ stations like an obstacle course. I’m sorry that when the man in the open-backed gown reached out his hand, I pulled away. I’m sorry I didn’t play Chopin waltzes on the piano for the bored, haggard women in the cafeteria. I’m sorry that I didn’t start the VHS player for those vacant eyes glued to the fuzzy screen. I’m sorry all those twisted, Cubist faces so haunted me.

I’m sorry the numbers on the clock scrambled, the hands circled counterclockwise, that your favorite velour sweater sets began disappearing, even after my mom carefully scripted your initials on the tags. I’m sorry that to you, the Nigerian nurse who brought your meals was a “spook.” I’m sorry that you took more pills than you could swallow. I’m sorry you had to relieve yourself like a child, strapped into a plush diaper. I’m sorry that your sudden attachment to an old stuffed animal of mine—a plush duck—disgusted me. It’s sweet, mom said. I’m sorry I kept it.

I’m sorry I didn’t hold your hand as you drew a last timid breath through those plastic tubes, hanging like tentacles around your bed. I’m sorry it smelled like urine and that the nonsensical shouts of your neighbor kept you up at night. Until you could do nothing but sleep, that is. I’m sorry that I shouted to your gaunt face in those enunciated staccatos, that I replaced compassion with frustration. I’m sorry I pretended you were already dead but hated that you were dying. I’m sorry you became a burden, an annoyance, a door that wouldn’t stop creaking.

I’m sorry that losing our golden retriever, the summer after you passed, was harder on me. Your death felt more like mercy than pain. I cried all night when he died, but only a few relieved moments when you did. I’m sorry that mom, dad and I sat consoling him when the vet pushed something poisonous into his veins, I’m sorry all three of us laid our hands on his grayed, copper face, his arthritic hips, his straining rib cage. I’m sorry he heard I loved him as his eyes shrunk to glossy slits and his heartbeat slowed. I’m sorry that he is buried and marked in our backyard, but that your ashes are still un-spread in the Sound.

My First Crush

Starting in the first grade I had a crush on Isaiah. I wrote his last name instead of mine on my journals, little hearts encasing my 1st-grader scrawl. I tried to win Isaiah’s heart by hitting him in the face with a basketball (my fault, a terrible pass) and by giving him a wrapped Reeses candy and a note that divulged my ardent feelings. And later, well versed in the art of romance, I showed my love for him by stealing a prized school supply from his desk.

One afternoon in Mrs. Francescutti’s class, we all sat at our desks coloring away at a geometry project with crayons. I had been randomly seated next to Isaiah in the most recent seating arrangement, something I held close to my seven-year-old heart as a “sign we were meant to be together forever.” Sometime between the completion of my red hexagon and the beginning of my pink triangle, Isaiah got up to go talk to Jordan, his best friend, leaving his desk empty. A waxy yellow eraser peeked out from the cubby underneath his desk, cozied up next to a black sharpie and a racecar pencil sharpener. My hand lurched forward and grabbed it. I had never stolen anything before, let alone something from someone I knew, but by some sort of twisted logic, I thought people would just assume he lost his eraser and that I had been the heroine who’d miraculously found it—not that I had been the one to steal it in the first place. It was fool proof.

Isaiah came back to his desk, and reached his hand inside, searching for the prized eraser recently purchased from the Dolphin Student Store. Overcome with what I’d done, I stuck it in the desk of my neighbor, Annie, for safe keeping. I planned to wait for him to search all over for it, and then, when he was at his most desperate, be the one who found it on the floor. That was the plan—Cupid’s plan.

Just when I thought everything was going swimmingly, Annie held the eraser in her palm and raised her other hand. “Ms. Francescutti—Alexa stole Isaiah’s eraser and then stuck it in my desk.” Taken aback, I denied it fervently, irreverently, until the suspicious Ms. Francescutti led me by the neck next door, into Ms. Gangnes’s classroom. Ms. Gangnes’s class was in the music room, leaving their classroom (forebodingly) dark. It was as they played Frère Jacques on the glockenspiel down the hall that I experienced the first interrogation of my young life.

Okay, so interrogation may be a bit harsh; Ms. Francesscutti merely questioned me about what had exactly happened (how had the eraser traveled from Isaiah’s desk to Annie’s without their knowledge?), but to my sensitive temperament and guilty conscience she might as well have been water-boarding me. I immediately confessed, “I took it!” as she crouched down to meet me at eye-level.  “Why did you take it?” she asked gently, softened by my passionate tears. “I wanted Isaiah to think I’d found it for him.” There it was, the truth, please have mercy!

But Ms. Francescutti didn’t take stealing lightly, and shouldn’t have. She left me in Ms. Gangnes’ dark classroom to let me think about what I’d done. I sat in one of those miniature plastic kid chairs and sobbed. I sobbed for my foiled plan, for getting in trouble, but most of all I sobbed for my unattainable crush.

Little did I know that in the fourth grade, my dreams would be (semi-) realized. We would roller skate together at the class Skating Party. Sure, he would have to be coaxed by my babysitter when the “Couples Skate” light flashed on, but I could’ve cared less: we were skating in circles to NSYNC and his sweaty hand was finally in mine! The sad, love-struck first grader in me beamed.

But past that one fateful night, nothing between Isaiah and I materialized. My crush on him dissipated as I entered the fifth grade and decided, quite maturely, to “focus on myself.” He went on to be one of the best basketball players at our high school when I was on the swim team and playing piano in the jazz band. We ran with different crowds and I hardly ever saw him. But throughout the years, if I ever noticed him walking along the green lockers or sitting in the lunchroom, my stomach would still lurch a little. You never quite forget your first crush.

On Love and Cruise Ships

Seeking vacation on her polished decks, passengers filled the Costa Concordia to the brim. Using the hand of a crewmember to lift themselves onboard, passengers made their way to their rooms. There were elderly couples dressed head to toe in floral, families carrying tote bags, women clutching sunglasses and cameras. In each compartment, maids had set the pillow mints, folded towels into dogs and placed an All Aboard your Dreams! pamphlet between the terry cloth paws.

Matt, a soft-spoken writer from my fiction class, followed me out of class one day, commenting on the bleak weather. Rainy again, he said, gesturing up to the sky, vast and gray like ocean. Yeah, I kind of like it, I replied. He continued chatting with me as I walked towards my dorm. After a bout of small talk laced with flirtatious curiosity, he asked for my number. I fumbled for my phone (and my composure) as the Evergreens around us swayed in the bluster.

That weekend we walked down to the boardwalk to get coffee. He told me about his love of all things Dada, his desire to become a novelist, his favorite movies. I described the trip to Florence I was hoping to take in the summer and folded him an origami crane out of the biodegradable coffee shop napkin. We sipped, the water mirrored the overcast sky like an endless sheet of steel and he said, This is fun.

The passengers settled in. Several days were spent exploring the ship’s aquamarine pool, gleaming restaurant as well as their evening programs. Last night, there had been tango lessons in The Great Ballroom. The day before, karaoke in The Canteen. And that afternoon there would be a magic show in The Center Room, complete with magician, rabbit, and wand.

When the magic show began, most of the ship sat in front of a red velvet stage, eager. He’d begun sawing one of the hostesses in half, promising he’d put her back together. Jeanie, the hostess, was wheeled out in a something like a coffin, except it was too short: her head and feet stuck out of the ends. Then, the magician, Ricardo, begged for everyone’s attention. Eager kids swarmed around the stage as he sawed, the blade sinking into the box and right—presumably—into her chest.

After our first date, Matt and I spent most of our time together. So much time, in fact, I fell into a habit, a schedule. I’d wake up to a hello text. I’d meet him on campus for lunch. And on weekends we’d drink Old Fashioneds, let our clumsy fingers write on his typewriter and blast Jaymay’s Sea Green, See Blue on repeat. As my lids closed at night, I’d wish this vacation from my old life would never end.

One morning, about a month and half after he’d introduced me as his “girlfriend” to a room full of his friends from the on-campus film club, he didn’t text me good morning. Undeterred, I invited him to a downtown coffee shop for lunch, suggesting we could eat and study together. He met me at Avellino’s, a sweet café with a brightly painted façade, later that afternoon. He seemed quiet. I walked back to the table with the latte I’d ordered, the cup teetering on the saucer and spilling coffee as I walked. It was then that he told me he didn’t think we should try long-distance while he studied abroad in Germany, a precedent he had not only agreed to but desired when we first decided to become a couple. He told me he wasn’t sure he’d come back, wasn’t sure he wanted to. Without me, he could raise his anchors.

The ship’s hostess, Jeanie, was separated to great applause, then the magician proceeded to put her back together. He left the stage promising One more trick! but never returned. Then they felt an immense jolt. A sound like a horse whinny, but louder, was immediately followed by the ship tilting to the port side. People screamed and ran onto deck, leaning over the rails as if taken by a bout of seasickness. Others hurried upstairs from their rooms in a panic. A woman’s voice came over the ship-wide intercom, failing in its efforts to keep steady. There may be a problem.

They learned that the captain had steered them off the computer-programmed course and that they’d hit a rocky outcrop in the shallows of the Tyrrhenian Sea.  The impact tore a gash in her hull and left her lying on her starboard side, beached in shallow waters. Panicked, and in over his head, the Captain promptly abandoned ship.

Dimple Chin

The first thing my grandmother noticed when I was born was my chin. She held me close and stroked my face slightly with her pinky, grazing over the asterisk left in my soft clay. It’s a Peters trait, this dimple-chin.

In one of the earliest photos of my grandmother, she stands in front of a quaint house, hips forward and thumbs stuck in her overall pockets. Her face is full of dimples, two arcs next to her mouth and a star in the center of her chin. Even when she grew elderly and the skin beneath her face sagged down, that dimple was as crisp as the photograph. It aged much as her soul did, stubbornly.

As my dad ages, I see echoes of my grandmother in his face; the thousand ripples around the mouth, the cheeks plush like marshmallows, and of course that deep divot in his chin that, from a distance, is nothing but shadow. Sometimes he strokes it in thought, hunched over the table while filling in a quarter note or dotting an ‘i.’

Despite all the credit my dad’s side has gotten for my unique chin, I can’t un-see a spot on my mom’s chin that sags slightly inwards, like an overripe spot on a peach.

Once, after a trip to see her parents, my mom described spending weeks flooding the floor of their San Luis Obispo mobile home with boxes of old family pictures and memorabilia. With an excited inhale, she describe the delicate process of extracting a certain yellowed picture from its broken frame. Then she took the very picture out of an envelope for me to see. It’s a picture of our family in Italy so old even Grandpa can’t name everyone. I studied it like a crossword puzzle—looking for a familiar combination in all the empty spaces.

In the center of the photo was a elderly woman, apparently my great-great grandmother. She sat round-shouldered in a wooden chair, her hair was tucked back behind a kerchief and her face scrunched in the sunlight. Below her mouth was a dark dot. An imperfection. Then I studied each of the faces around her. Standing next to each other in a line, their chins made a long ellipses.

Cow Lake


The horizon stretched itself thin across the windshield, endless and unencumbered. It snaked to my right out the passenger window and I reached for it, smoothed it, as if it were a strand of hair out of place. My arm out the window was carried upwards by the car’s momentum and my hand became a fleshy crow against the clouds. I let myself float there a minute, musing. Then his voice broke the silence. When he was younger, his family had an exchange student from China who was overwhelmed by all the open space. How appropriate, I thought, that abundant space had made a kid from crowded Hong Kong uneasy. How funny that, as I sat passenger-side and wide-eyed, I empathized.

As the road funneled us forwards, filtering us through town and out into pastures, I leaned on his shoulder and watched the huge, placid sky through the sunroof, I pointed at horses, I took in big gulps of Eastern Washington air and audibly sighed them out. He smiled at my wonder and drummed, one hand on the steering wheel and the other on my knee, to Radiohead oozing through the car speakers. A native, the vastness had swallowed him long ago, but I needed to savor every blade of wheatgrass, every inch of azure sky. I couldn’t help but be filled up, as perfume does a bottle.

When the narrow gravel road began shooting pebbles at the windshield and the car tires seemed unsure in their muddy tracks, he said that we were getting close. Hills came into view, and I squinted, trying to make out what was in the distance. We were looking for a lake, but I pushed the memory of a giant, grey Lake Washington out of my mind. We were looking for a country lake, for Cow Lake.

Sure enough, it appeared, a large puddle in the midst of low, grassy hills. He stopped the car and we got out, my brown leather boots squelching as they touched muddy ground.  From his description, I’d expected a pool of sooty water. While it may have been just that, all I could see, as it sat there frozen over and illuminated in the sun, was an intricate stained glass window or a piece of icy Venetian tile.

I meandered along the lakeshore, skipping in the dry grasses like a little girl and letting the cold wind bring out the rosiness in my cheeks. He lingered back from me awhile, perhaps musing on the day much as I was, or reminiscing about times spent swimming in the hot sun with his siblings. I smiled, thankful that my footprints would be left in the mud of his memories.

Suddenly desiring to meet his kind gaze and push a hay-bale blonde lock from his face, I turned back. Finding his outline in the distance, my walked turned to a run. Every pore drank in the sweetness of the day, and for a moment, I flew.


Ripen and Release

In the yard of my family’s first house grew an avocado tree creeping up like a great praying mantis. We waited eagerly for its sporadic offerings, attuned to the thud of its leathery eggs against our dry California grass.

The day we moved away, I watched my parents collect dozens of these strange fruit in large wooden crates. My mom crouched repeatedly, balancing several in her cradled arms. My dad’s soft hands gripped each delicately and lowered them into the crates. Both of them seemed entranced by a strange catharsis of starting anew. Of ripening, tumbling and rolling away from their roots.

I was young then but the move impressed me like the pit does the green flesh. There was the hot plastic of my car seat, the steady rhythm of the sun-visor vibrating against the window, a large cardboard box marked ‘BOOKS’. And then there were the avocados that sandwiched me against the car door. They looked like the dark circles under my dad’s tired, road-lulled eyes. They looked like three-dimensional bruises. They looked like stepping-stones.

The hardest part of leaving that house was leaving the avocado tree. My parents remind me. Dad uses the prongs of the fork to smash the green meat into his quesadilla. Mom strikes the pit with a sharp knife and twists to lift it from its imprint.

I’m grown now. My bare feet stick to the kitchen linoleum in my first apartment as I take one of those familiar ovals in my hand and squeeze it, feeling its surface give. My knife cuts through to the dense pit leaving the rind split like an old tire. I pull the two halves apart and I spoon the insides into my mouth. I am halted by the uncanny sweetness. How similarly we ripen and release from what once held us up.

The Crane

She starts as a square piece of paper, pink side up. Crease and open again.  She gasps for air. Crease and open again. Her limbs are reaching out like a pinwheel. Gentle hands turn her over, pat her doe white behind, and set her down. She’s a small delicate beginning lying face-up on the metal table.

The fingers of time swaddle her, and mold her to life’s geometry. Pudgy hands touch her knees and help her rock back and forth. Mom takes a picture to crease that fold, before she teeters forwards.

Her arms become bat wings that fold around doggies and daisy bouquets and teddy bears. In, crease. Out, crease. Hugs are becoming a habit.

Her first word, “Dada,” escapes and her head bows down reverently. Crease there, where her Adam’s apple slowly rolls under the skin like the tip of a ballpoint pen. This is her new command room of expression, the cockpit of the bird.

She lifts her corners up until she’s sailing high like a kite, legs straight and strong. She steps with the crutch of her blue toy car, Mom’s hand, the staircase bannister.  Her walk is new, and her  precarious legs begin to crumple under newfound weight.

But she grows tough and precious like a diamond, letting fingernails crease her into the puzzle of self-actualization. Her legs come up into crisscross applesauce, hopscotch and then in the dance steps of the Texas Tommy. Her wings pull straight out, fan towards Lake Union, extend towards a friend, and point her like a compass. Her mouth becomes a beak, prodding for the next adventure, gaping with the next song.