If I’m not up, or if I am pretending to sleep, or if I am just lying there like usual, staring at the ceiling, Father Chee will kneel by my bed and bow his head.

If I ask him what he is doing, he’ll say he is lifting me up to God, asking God to help me be whoever I need to be at this moment of my life.


He comes every day, and I don’t mind his coming.


Franks sends me a card that reads:

Dear Amber,

We were very shaken by the news.

I am always here if you need me.

We miss you down in The Franks Lair.

I’m praying for you, and will be looking forward to your return.

Be well,

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I throw his card away.

I throw away all of the flowers and cards from classmates and community members.

I don’t even sniff or open any of those.

I do not want any of these flower arrangements or sympathy cards to exist, so I ask Donna to burn them in the backyard, but I never see any smoke rising past my window, so I don’t think she is honoring my request.


This zombie-type mom in need of extra cash starts coming to “tutor” me, since I’m not going to school right now.

She’s large.

She smells like mothballs.

She never laughs or smiles or tells a joke.

She reminds me of a robot caked in meat.

Her name is Mrs. Redman.

My real teachers give her assignments that I am supposed to complete. At first, there are little handwritten notes on the assignments—encouraging words from my real teachers—but these notes disappear after a few weeks or so, which is when I realize that my teachers have given up on me. It didn’t take them very long.

Because I still want to go to Bryn Mawr, I do all of my assignments and show Mrs. Redman my work three times a week when she comes to visit me.

She gives me all A’s, even when I answer incorrectly on purpose.

I think she is afraid of me, or something.


“Father Chee?”

“Yes, Amber?”

“Why does God allow men to go mentally insane?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’ll never lie to me, will you?”


“Promise me. That you won’t tell me lies like everyone else. That you won’t BS me.”

“I promise—I will never lie to you.”


Prince Tony calls me on the phone from time to time, but I don’t really listen to what he says to me. It’s all crap about the seasons of life and the ebb and flow and other blah-blah stuff adults tell you when they don’t know what the hell to say. “Do you understand?” he always asks me at the end of the conversations, and I always say yes.


“Father Chee?”

“Yes, Amber?”

“Why are dogs more humane than humans?”

“I don’t know.”


Right about the same time my mom’s name starts showing up in the news, Private Jackson begins sending me one haiku a day in the mail.

He doesn’t write a letter stating that he is sorry for my loss, nor does he ask how I am doing or any of that other crap that doesn’t help. He just sends poems. And his haikus are not aimed at inspiring me or making me feel better or helping me deal with the loss. With words, he simply takes snapshots of simple things for me—like a leaf, a bottle cap, a snowflake, a bird in flight, an ant, a single breath—and when I read these haikus I sorta trip out on the image that is never good or bad, happy or sad, exciting or boring.

These images just are.

I begin to really look forward to reading PJ’s haikus, and going to check the mail is the only time I leave my new bedroom other than to use the bathroom.

Covering the four walls with Private Jackson’s haikus—one page a day—I slowly make my room into a cocoon of poetry.

Here is the first one he sends me:




At first, I read it—like a million times, wondering if Private Jackson was trying to communicate with me through metaphor.

I puzzled out all sorts of interpretations too.

Maybe it was a metaphor for the madness—or the chaos I was feeling as of late, which is sorta hidden in my chest and mind, but real?

I had been in my new room for days now.

Maybe it was a metaphor for the madness of the man who killed my mother?

Maybe PJ was telling me that I needed to wake up and see that things were still alive and moving around me, even though my mom was gone and I felt so all alone?

Maybe he meant something else, and I was just too dumb to understand?

But then I remembered what Private Jackson stood for, what he was all about—all of the Zen stuff.

I instantly understood that PJ woke up in the middle of the night and heard squirrels in his bedroom walls, so he took a mental snapshot of the moment and wrote me a haiku.

Nothing more.

The moment just was—free of the emotions and judgments or any of the other illusionary things we humans feel the need to attach to everything we encounter.

Reading Private Jackson’s haikus after my mother’s murder—I totally got why he had been writing haikus all this time, ever since ’Nam, training his mind to allow things to exist without all of the complicated emotional baggage.

Everything simply is—always and forever.




I totally get haikus now. True.

And Private Jackson is my favorite writer.


“Father Chee?”

“Yes, Amber?”

“Why does God allow horrible things to happen to good people?”

“I don’t know.”


One day—on Donna’s iPod—I listen to Dinosaur Jr.’s “Puke and Cry” a million times in a row. I just set it to repeat the one song over and over again, and then I listen for several hours—tripping out.

I pretend that the lead singer—J Mascis—is singing me the song over and over again from Donna’s living room downstairs. Mascis—who has long silver hair, because he is old now—keeps on singing, “Come on down. Come on down. Come on down,” like he really wants me to come down from my little cocoon of haikus and misery.

I don’t come down, but I like pretending there is an obscure rock star who wants me to.

The battery finally runs out, and when I take the headphones off, my ears are ringing, J Mascis is gone, and Donna is calling to me, asking me if I want some soup.


“Father Chee?”

“Yes, Amber?”

“When will it stop hurting so badly?”

“I don’t know.”






After a month or so, Old Man Linder pays me a visit on behalf of the entire Methodist Home.

Donna comes into my room and says that I have to come down to see Old Man Linder because he can’t walk up steps. Donna’s murder trial ended a week or so ago and she has taken some time off from work to care for me, which I told her not to do. She dotes on me now, even though I hardly talk to her.

“I only go down once a day to check the mail,” I tell Donna. “Tell Old Man Linder he’ll have to come up here if he wants to talk to me.”

“The man has tubes running up his nose and is attached to an oxygen—”

“Yeah, I know him,” I say, like a total cat.

“He can’t walk stairs. He said it could kill him, but he really wants to talk to you, Amber. I don’t think he leaves the home much. Please just come down. He’s an old man and I think it might be good for you to—”

“No,” I say. “Tell him he can come back tomorrow around one fifteen when I’ll be checking the mail. That’s when I will next come downstairs.”

“Amber, what’s happening to you?” Donna says in this really dramatic fashion that pisses me off.

When I don’t answer, she leaves.

Ten minutes later, Donna returns and hands me a cup of hot cocoa and a Snickers bar, and then shakes her head at me before exiting my poetry cocoon.

I hear Old Man Linder breathing really hard on the steps.

One footstep, clunk, heavy breathing.

One footstep, clunk, heavy breathing.

One footstep, clunk, heavy breathing.

His oxygen tank makes an awful clunk each time he sets it on a higher step.

“Mr. Linder,” Donna says, “perhaps—you really shouldn’t—”

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do! I’m old enough to be your grandfather, thank you very much!” Old Man Linder says, and then sucks in an awful breath like he has been underwater for the last two hours or something.

He and Donna fight about whether he should be walking up the steps for another few minutes before I yell, “Donna, your making him yell isn’t helping!”

And then I only hear footsteps, clunking, and heavy breathing.

When Old Man Linder reaches the top of the stairs, he looks like he might fall backward and die. His face is completely white, which makes me feel like a total cat, so I walk into the hallway, grab his arm, and escort him into my room.

When he squeezes my shoulder football coach–style, I know that he is going to be okay—that he probably won’t die in my room.

He points to the Snickers and cocoa on my dresser. “Compliments of Door Woman Lucy.”

I nod.

“How you holdin’ up?” he asks me, and then sits down on the wooden chair that goes with the desk Donna bought for me.

I shrug.

I can see that his clear air tubes look sorta fogged up, and I wonder if that is bad.

“What are all those papers on your wall?”



“Short Japanese poems.”

“You can read Japanese?” he says.

“They’re written in English,” I say.

“By you?”

“No, by Private Jackson.”

“Who’s Private Jackson?”

“He was in ’Nam back in the day. Now he writes haikus. He’s my favorite poet.”

“I’m not going to get into all that, kid,” Old Man Linder says, adjusting the nozzle on his oxygen bottle, which produces a hissing sound. “I know you’ve suffered a horrific, senseless, and cruel loss, and while I won’t pretend to know what that must feel like—I will say that I’m old enough to know that life throws you a few nasty blows before she’s done with you, but each time you’re knocked down, you have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and—”

“Please don’t,” I say to Old Man Linder. “Please.”

He looks confused.

He’s wringing his hands.

He’s so old school.

He’s so out of his league.

“I was nineteen years old when I lost my best friend in World War Two. I never did feel the same—”

“Please stop.”

He shakes off my request, smiles knowingly, and says, “We miss you down at the home. Joan of Old wants a rematch. She’s still contesting your last battle. Stating that the kiss was a violation of the damn rules, not that Old Man Thompson will ever side with her.” Old Man Linder forces a laugh. “But some of the older feebleminded broads have taken Old Joan’s point of view. If we don’t make some sort of public statement quickly, the fans will think—”

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