I tried to write about my grandmother's death three times.
The first time, I tried to write about her photograph. As we set up shiva the day after Yom Kippur, I found pictures of Meema that Daddy had lain out. The glassy paper atop the pile toppled me, and I trembled into a seat on the nearby sofa. I sank into the white, dusty cushions as Meema laughed, lips her trademark shade of fluorescent pink, hair the color of sterling, framing the crinkles around her cocoa eyes. Meema was known for two looks: one of adulation, and one of disgust. This photo carried the former. She stood against a pale desert sky, sun searing the sands, but Meema lit the picture. The sun bowed and let her brighten the world.
When I saw that photograph I breathed in, out, out, in, trying to keep steady before collapsing into a lake. But I looked back at her smile, the look she always gave me, and dove into the water. It was an ocean, a warm one, not a lake after all; as I let its drops bathe me I lipped salt. A constant in and out - salt dries me, water replenishes. I set my Meema onto the stubby coffee table, sunk into the couch and cleaned myself in the ocean, hearing its droplets land in pitter-pats beside me. As the ocean seeped from my eyes, the red hue defacing my brown orbs dissipated. I came up for air from the water minutes later, with Mommy's weight familiar on the plain cushion next to me. I jerked away from her outstretched hand and ran from the beach. I didn't look back - looking would mean explaining, and explaining would mean knowing, and I had just washed that from myself.
The second time I tried to write about Meema, I thought about the call. Daddy's cell phone, encased in pink rubber for which the store sold no alternative, buzzed in his pocket as he picked apart my essay. It was my college essay, and it seemed to throb with importance, beaming with the brightness of the future it could grant me. But the phone shone through Daddy's pants pocket, and he set down my essay to answer it.
"Hey, Tom… Yeah. I was going to go down - Damn. Okay."
"Okay, well if I have to come early, I will… Okay. Yeah."
I stared at his tapping fingers.
"Love you. Let me know."
Daddy hung up the phone and bent down, breathing the earth beneath our house's paltry floors before he faced me. "She's worse."
"What do you mean?"
"She's just crashed. Her blood sugar, her heartbeat - everything they can measure. It's just crashing."
I envisioned my Meema's innards attacking each other, battling the great war they had threatened so often before. Organs, vessels, cells crumbled upon impact and Meema's body crashed to the ground. Her soul hovered, shocked at its own demise, unsure where to go.
I darted downstairs and found Mommy in her usual seat in the den, cozy with a mug of tea and dark green leather cushions. "Tom called," I said, and spilled out the rest. I returned upstairs and she followed me, and we sat next to Daddy, who didn't want to be touched.
The phone rang again, burning the room.
"Hey, Tom… Okay. Damn."
The clock blared 10:20 p.m. when I buried my head in my hands. I tried to compress my body into a shell so I could hover with Meema, and pull her back down to the earth where she belonged.
"-We'll talk about that later. Love you. I've gotta go now… I'm okay. But my daughter just lost her grandmother."
At the confirmation I wailed, and felt warm arms around me. They lifted me up although I wished with all my might to crash down.
The third time Meema plagued my mind, I tried to write about us. I typed out vague memories about my infancy, when she let me chase her in her size-four high heels. I relived stronger memories - when I was seven years old and hated strangers, and she was my only relative who never made me hug her. I was young and shy and picky, but she trusted me to grow without her help. I did grow up, and began hugging her on my own accord whenever I could. The first time she asked me to hug her was a month before her death, when she thought I was in junior high and she couldn't sit up anymore. I hugged her and lifted her to wipe shit off her nightdress, and I walked her to her keyboard so she could play for me. She could not walk or bathe or eat or drink or hear or shit into a toilet, but she played "Getting to Know You" note-for-note, in perfect rhythm. Through her deafness, I sang along.
That last time Daddy and I saw her was a five-day trip. Every day we went to see Meema, still stubbornly living alone, and every day she turned us away. I'm too tired, she said, can you come later? She was always asleep later. She said this, too, the last time we saw her, the last day of our last trip to see my last grandparent. When we said we couldn't come back later, her face fell. I'm sorry, she said, I wish I could be with you, but I can't. She gave us both her love and held our hands before looking straight at me. I'll come visit you, she said, I promise. Then she fell back asleep. Daddy and I put her hands by her side, left her apartment and collapsed in the hallway, like bawling children. She always kept her word, but I knew she would not visit me.
The fourth time I wrote this, because I needed to write about her. She with the smile that outshone the sun, the revolted frown that marred her last face - she had no clue how to die. The pint-sized woman who trusted children and their naivety, who let music dance through her fingers and lips. Meema is not a photograph or a death, or even memories that traipse through my mind at inopportune moments, dunking me again into that plaguing ocean. She is all of that, a whole, a heartbeat in a vast web of lives, and she is the steady fingers that hold my hand while I quake at night.
Waiting on Robin Williams
By Mark Blickley
As we approach the first anniversary of Robin Williams' passing, I decided to write a tribute about how a brief encounter with the comedian/actor altered my life.
Twenty-six years ago I was an off-off Broadway playwright clerking in a chi-chi toy store for grownups on the Upper West Side when in walks Robin Williams. I was speechless. He smiled and nodded at me before exploring the various aisles. I knew he was in rehearsal at Lincoln Center for Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting For Godot, so as I sneaked peaks at his inspection of the store, I tried to think of what I would say to him should he approach my register.
The owners of this unique store were a master framer and assistant film director who took great pride in laying out their merchandise in a setting that looked more art gallery than retail establishment. They had many celebrity customers and would often threaten their employees with termination should any fuss or attention be directed at their famous customers. These employers also insisted that we ask all customers to give us their address for a mailing list catalogue they were preparing. Less than half of our customers were willing to comply.
Twenty minutes later Robin Williams strolled up to my register with a handful of purchases. As I punched them into the register he told me what a wonderful store it was. I worked up the nerve to tell him I knew he was going to appear in Godot and timorously asked, "Are you going to portray Vladimir or Estrogen?" The moment the name Estrogen escaped from my lips I knew I had just made a colossal ass of myself. The name of Beckett's character is Estragon, not estrogen.
Although there was only a couple of other people in the store, Williams immediately launched into a verbal and visual riff, "Ahhh… Estrogen, a man going through changes!" I was so humiliated I wish I could better remember his brilliant impromptu performance. He transformed himself on the spot into a sex change candidate, complete with manic gestures and undulating voice. After handing him his purchases, I dutifully asked him for his address and to my shock he gave it to me. He was staying just a few blocks away on 75th street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenue, a temporary rental for the duration of the Mike Nichols directed play he was co-starring in with Steve Martin.
That night I confessed my embarrassing story to my girlfriend. When I told how surprised I was that he gave me his address, she immediately said I should send him a produced play I had written, The World's Greatest Saxophone Player. It was a one-person comedy about a saxophonist who played his instrument without using a reed.
I was hesitant. If my employers found out I harassed a celebrity by sending him a script, I would be immediately fired. Besides, I reasoned, his address was probably bogus and he probably just gave me one because he was sensitive to how foolish I felt about my verbal miscue. But she was very persuasive and I did mail off a copy to him on 75th Street.
A couple of weeks later Robin Williams re-entered the store, this time with a small child. I got really anxious. The owners were there and I was afraid he would tell them that I had harassed him by mailing him a script, as I figured how many strangers would know the exact address of where he was staying during the six week run of his play? To my relief, he left without making a purchase and I assumed he never got my script, or if he did, he simply tossed it.
Months later I got a phone call at my apartment. It was from Hollywood. The speaker identified himself as a representative from Michael Menschel's office, Robin Williams' agent. I was in total disbelief. He said Mr. Williams isn't looking for theater pieces, but would be interested in seeing a screenplay. He asked me if I could write one and although I had no idea how to author a film script, I told him, "of course." Then he asked me for my agent's name. I told him I did not have one. I was dropped by an agent a year earlier. The tone of his voice immediately changed, and he asked if I had an entertainment attorney. When I said I did not, I could hear that the respect he had for me at the beginning of the conversation evaporated. He instructed me to notify him when I completed a draft of the screenplay and he would send me a release form.
I hung up the phone very upset. I felt as if I had just blown an amazing opportunity. Michael Menschel had thought I was a more established writer, not just an unknown off-off Broadway playwright. I knew that sending a script via a release form was not only the sign of an amateur, but dangerous. A writer had no protection with a release form and could not sue if similar material somehow ended up with his client. But what else could I do?
I wondered if Robin Williams had read my script and liked it enough to pass on to his agent, or if he just forwarded my manila envelope to Menschel's office, where it was read. The fact he did not simply ignore it still astounds me.
It took me many months to learn to craft a screenplay and adapt my one-person show. When I completed it, I immediately called Menschel's office and learned that Williams was no longer represented by them, but had moved to the CAA agency. I did not have a contact within that agency and so was at a loss over what I should do with my first screenplay.
I decided to make a list of a dozen or so top agents/agencies and then wrote them a very good cover letter explaining the "heat" I had generated with Robin Williams' agent. Most of them responded back to me. One even wrote that he didn't know if the story I was telling him was true, but it was so convincingly written he'd be interested in meeting with me. For the first time in my life I was in a position to pick and choose, thanks to Mr. Williams.
I went with a Hollywood agency. My script was optioned twice yet never made into a film, but it did open doors for me I never knew existed. Unbeknownst to Robin Williams, just making that superficial contact with him changed my life even thought I only spoke briefly with him that one time.
I was vacationing in New England on August 11th, 2014 when my former girlfriend (now ex-wife), the one who had convinced me to send my play off to that famous customer, texted me a single sentence, "Robin Williams is dead."
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The Extraordinary Life of Shady Gray
by Jason Tanamor
Shady Gray's family is dysfunctional to say the least. When his sister gets pregnant their father kicks her out of the house. When his mother takes her resentment into another man's arms, Shady's father starts a fight. When Shady's mother fights back, she kills his father out of self-defense. But is it really self-defense? Shady Gray wants nothing more than to fit into the world. He questions life, God and everything in between on a number of occasions. Everything in Shady's life is a disappointment. That is until he meets Jessica, a physically scarred girl who teaches Shady how to enjoy life. With Jessica's help, Shady realizes that instead of fitting into the world, he is destined to stand out. The Extraordinary Life of Shady Gray is a fictional young adult/coming of age story.
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The Boy In The Graveyard
by Debbie Elliott
Young Jack March Rigby has no idea what his father does for a living but one night his father, John May Rigby needs help with his work due to his business partner not showing up. Jack finds himself in the world of body snatching. The first part deals with this work, the travels to graveyards at night to steal bodies, jewellery or anything they need. In this part of the book Jack meets the doctor who wants these cadavers as well as takes part in seeing a criminal hanged & retrieving that dead man’s hand for the local alchemist. He becomes involved in his father’s business selling the goods they steal to big time criminal Jock Godsick as well helping a local artist Otto Olaf Dix steal some skeletons for his art-making 3d photographs called stereoscope pictures that were popular at this time. He also meets, due to a storm one night, the Priest, father Devereux who runs the church St Mary’s in the Fields, which is also the cemetery they often steal bodies from. All goes well until the arrest of Jack’s father & the threat of Jack going to the workhouse. Father Devereux kindly takes the boy in instead.