One night, when I was in grade school, my parents hosted a party. Other families came, co-workers. There were drinks. A man in a yellow tie had a margarita and then another and another. He said his ex-wife was a tramp. He stumbled as he passed from the living room into the den, where we kids were playing, entered the room looking unsure of why he walked into it.


“A bitch,” he said. “Total bitch.”


That night, I swore to my mom I’d never drink. She laughed, asked me why. I said I hated that man, that there was no need to drink, that I was happy without it. I was seven or maybe eight. She said I’d understand when I was older. I lay in bed, unable to sleep, knowing I’d prove my mom wrong.


The first time I got drunk was at Vlad’s, the summer after my freshman year of high school. We bought a handle of vodka so cheap, we thought, that the homeless man we’d given a twenty to buy it had given us seventeen dollars change. We passed the bottle with a shot glass and a chaser of store-brand cola. Around my fourth shot, everything started spinning. It felt good, wholesome, the ritual. Later, trying to sleep on Vlad’s floor, head resting on my bunched-up hoodie, I thought about what I swore to my mom, her laughter, and I felt an unmooring. Who knew what I’d believe in ten years? Twenty? Who would I be?


I was friends with Vlad because he and I rode the city bus together after school. By that point, my mom and dad had divorced, and on days at my dad’s house I’d ride one bus out from the suburbs into the core of downtown Seattle, where I’d walk up Stewart to wait by a garbage can on the backside of the convention center for the number 18, which then took me to school, just a stone’s throw from my mom’s. Vlad and I took advantage of our afternoons downtown, hitting the market for donuts or piroshkies or hum bao, drinking dollar tallboys of Arizona Iced Tea from minimarts where homeless people moved around in parallel to our thin reality, buying hot dogs or imitation crab sold on Styrofoam trays wrapped in cellophane.


Vlad had a knack for finding free food. At GameWorks we strolled the arcade, swiping a chicken leg off an abandoned plate, a slice of pizza at the bar. In the shampoo-scented hallways of downtown hotels, we found room service carts with scraps of porterhouse and baked potato, or the browned edges of a salmon frittata, the last bits of flesh out of the carcass of a Dungeness crab. We’d walk to the ballpark and talk down a scalper, or head up to the Starbucks on the forty-fourth floor of the Columbia Center to take in the view. Eventually, we’d split. I’d catch the 511 out way north, the ride quiet, still with the sodden air of evening commuters.


Vlad dropped out before the end of the school year. It made me wish I could drive. I’d sit alone in the back of the number 18, my biology textbook open on my lap, my gaze elsewhere, following the sequence of teriyaki joints and coffee shops, rain puddling at the curb.


My senior year, I saw Vlad in the parking lot at Leilani Lanes. I heard he’d been stealing cars. I’d tried to avoid him, but he caught up to me, put his hand on my shoulder. He asked if I wanted to buy some greeting cards and produced from under his jacket a small binder of samples. He told me I could make a good buck in the greeting-card game and invited me over to see how it was done.


His house, his parents’ house, smelled like chicken and mildew. None of his family was home but his friend was there, a guy with a gentle, fragile smile that made me anxious. He was seated in the parlor, where they’d spread a table with patterned cardstock, scissors, bottles of glue. Vlad asked if I was hungry and retrieved a roast chicken from the fridge, submerged in its own congealed juice. We ate it cold, with our hands, our fingers glistening.


We smoked a joint in the woods. His friend talked about how it easy it was to crib a Toyota. I got the sense he was trying to impress me. Vlad asked if I wanted to steal a car with them.


“Nah,” I said, and wondered why I hadn’t just said no.


We wandered the neighborhood in the wash of streetlight, going nowhere in particular. I kept smelling my hand, thinking about if my mom would smell the weed.


When I’d come home the morning after getting drunk for the first time, I’d been worried she would smell alcohol on my breath. I could feel booze in my mouth and lungs, in my pores, in my sweat. I stood in the entryway telling her we mostly played Xbox.


“Are you okay?” she said. I felt like I’d been emptied out and then filled with vapor. But from her tone and expression I knew that she knew what I’d done and also that she didn’t mind. It was like I’d crashed through some invisible barrier from one reality into another more like hers. She had known my whole life this feeling that felt so new, this hollowness and also the night’s strange spinning joy.


My hand didn’t smell like weed, but it did smell like chicken cartilage. Those days I thought a lot about the smell of food because I was working part-time washing dishes at a burger joint. I was terrible at it. Each day I’d come home soaked, my shirt thick with grease, ketchup, tartar.


“You going to college?” Vlad asked.




“Where?” his friend said.


“California,” I said. “Got a scholarship.”


Vlad said, “What are you gonna study?”


I’d been telling people business with a minor in art history but that was a lie. My mom had a fantasy of my future where I ran a restaurant and painted on the side, but all I knew was the certainty of a looming void stretching out before me. I still felt like a child, no direction, no idea what was next. And here was Vlad. Whatever next was, he was already living it.


We turned a corner and another, began to run out of small talk. I didn’t know it would be the last time I saw Vlad, but I didn’t not know it either. There was a damp gust, and I zipped my baggy raincoat shut. It was cold but not too cold, wet but not really raining.



I bring the watered-down wine to my mother’s lips

hold the plastic cup at an angle, tilt the straw.

Pleasures remain, and we practice them.

The body in water.

The anticipation of spring.



Above the deck, a string of lights levitates

below the sunshade like a globed consciousness

working only in the night.

Below the deck—small animals,

bundles of rustling nerves.

How many worlds?


How many dimensions hiding

in our perceived walls? In the dark of summer

we watch insects give themselves to fire

and we take in my father’s stories with more wine,

more water. When it is time, we will rise together

on the homemade lift into the living


room. We will wheel down the hall and

my brother will cradle the arc of my mother

in his arms and lay her to sleep in bed.

This is the geometry of dying—

and our grief is a closed circle

concentric in its company but radiating


like the fire does, and the glass festoons do,

and as all light will, arriving

from anywhere and touching anything.

O, the starlight—

when moved by a turbulent atmosphere—

how it spreads.


Two Poems

To My Caring and Worried Mother

There are sliced carrots in the shape of a cowbell,
because I understand
that great food should sing to you.


There’s a movie we’ve never seen before
and a Japanese instruction manual.


There’s a novel about Alzheimer’s
and some magic memory pills for your mother.
There’s an automatic food dispenser
so you don’t have to bend down to feed the dogs anymore.


There’s a travel bag with a Bible
and a plane ticket to Paris.


There’s a color-coded flow chart
describing the best way to carry a conversation with Grandma.
In the bottom right hand corner, in fine print, it explains
you may have to adopt new tactics on the fly.


I caught Grandma watching
The Hulk in Spanish today.
I just flipped to the English version.


To my caring and worried mother:
raising your voice won’t help,
there is no cure.


All the Post-It notes
on all the cabinets
should say: open with caution,
eat with intensity,
we love you
and we’ll help you
find the watch
you stuffed in the cookie jar.



The horse
nuzzles the back of my hand
as if the damp home of its nose
could stand not one more dark
second of this unfettered freeze.


What of it,
she asks after we’ve had our hot
meat and stale versions of drug,
sitting in lotus pose
facing my grandfather’s headstone
where every engraved sentence
curved tinsel of truth
into the steaming mouth of myth.


This barrel-bellied man
made a small southern town
seem like a place God had visited
and forgot to bless.
He was that damn bold,
that unforgettable.


What It Means to Be Alive

Dragonfly Notes: On Distance and Loss, by Anne Panning

Stillhouse Press, 2018
243 pages, paperback, $16.00


Cover of Anne Panning's Dragonfly Notes


Grief takes many shapes and can change as we live through it. For author Anne Panning, grief takes the shape of a discarded Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book, found on a neighborhood street, evoking the memory of her mother. This is where Panning’s new memoir, Dragonfly Notes: On Distance and Loss, begins. “Grief is so private that it’s hard to take it out into the world,” Panning observes as she mourns her mother’s death. The recipient of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for her collection Super America and a Best American Essays Notable nonfiction writer five times over, Panning can capture the essence of human experience. Panning’s essays are known for being fine-tuned and attenuated to the intensity of a moment, built out of vivid and uncomfortable truths. In Dragonfly Notes, Panning collects and uses these vignettes to craft a longer story about family, regret, and the loss of her mother.


Growing up poor in Arlington, Minnesota, the oldest daughter in a family of four siblings, with an addicted father and a loving mother, Panning manages to capture what it is to question where home is and what it means to leave one’s place of origin for good. Panning faces her own family criticism, quoting her brother: “‘Everything has to be such a drama for you,’” he expresses, “‘Isn’t anything just normal, or whatever for you?’” In this moment, Panning addresses a central aim of this book, which is to probe her family history in order to understand the loss of her mother. Her memoir answers her brother’s question easily, adeptly: No.


There is a symbolic mechanism that brings the memoir together, the “segmentation” of its structure, as Panning may call it, or the quilting together of titled sections that form the larger whole. Sections are not in chronological order, revealing Panning’s ability to shift into new time and geographical place naturally, as though she is having a conversation with us. Panning, like her mother, collects things throughout the memoir, and it is notable that the book, like her mother’s acts of accumulating fabric for making Panning’s childhood wardrobe, is carefully sewn from its sections.


Early on, in a section called “Good Girl,” Panning wonders what made her mother stay with Panning’s father. Barb met Lowell when she was in high school, and, as Panning notes, he was already an alcoholic then. Panning lets herself ask questions to her mother that she will never get answers to. This series of questions starts to open the door to what the memoir investigates: How does abuse happen in a family, and how do we get out of it? What does it mean to stay, and what does it mean to leave?


There is a dynamic relationship between Panning’s unflinching approach to her past and her lyricism in describing her parents’ home. Of the distressed Victorian her parents owned, she describes “the upstairs bathroom that our mother had made cozy by wallpapering the sloped wall over the tub in a tiny floral print, painting the vanity and chair a soft, strawberry pink, and glazing flower patterns on the side of the claw-foot tub. It still smelled like her Caress soap.”


Then, in a section titled “Hijacked,” Panning’s anger appears. After Panning introduces her family to her fiancé, whom she identifies as the healthiest relationship she has ever had, her mother asks her to reconsider the wedding. Panning remembers her mother saying through the phone line, “‘I mean, it’s not like he abuses you or anything, but he seems to sort of dictate how thing go in an abusive way.’” Panning, fierce as ever, responds with vehemence in the exchange, telling her mother, “‘You wouldn’t know a good relationship if it hit you in the face!’” And she goes on. What makes these moments so real is how vulnerable and honest Panning is.


The memoir finds its center in a Minnesota hospital with all of Panning’s siblings, waiting after the last of a series of incomplete and failed surgeries her mother has endured. With her mother on life support, Panning circles scenes with humor (eating Harry Potter Jelly Belly jelly beans with her siblings) and ends them with emotional heft (her father’s inability to stop the alarm going off on his wristwatch while getting very bad news). Throughout this section, the strengths of Panning’s writing are revealed: We can hear the potato chip bag crinkle under the weight of her father’s mindless snacking, we can see Panning trying to sing to her vacant mother in her hospital bed.


As the memoir ends, Panning must face her ordinary life. It’s almost as if she doesn’t want to let go, because doing so fades the memories of her mother. In mourning, Panning puts her energy into the writing workshop she’s teaching at SUNY Brockport, where I myself took classes with her (not the one she recounts). In a nonfiction class I took with her, she guided us to figure out the point of an essay by asking “So what?” At the end of her memoir, she asks, “I have parasailed in Malaysia—so what?” Her memoir easily answers the so-what question, and, in fact, there are many answers to that question in this powerful, necessary nonfiction work. Because this memoir will help readers feel hope if they are in abusive relationships. Because this memoir will help people grieve. Because this memoir will teach readers that it’s okay to be as raw and as vulnerable as you can be, as long as you are being honest. This memoir gives to its readers a sense of what forgiveness, grief, and living fully, all at once, can mean to a person. This memoir needs to be read as a vital voice in nonfiction, a voice that empowers, challenges, and gives comfort to those experiencing what it means to be alive.


The Girl in the Boat

The nurse presents my second daughter, but my eyes are still trained on my first across the room—too silent and large and blue in the hands of the doctors. My boyfriend shakes his head. I say: We’ll get through this. He kisses Lily, sticky and swaddled in my arms, stares at Daisy as she takes her first uncertain breath, and leaves. Two days, the doctors say. Two months. Two years. And then, we honestly don’t know; she could go at any time. The girls and I live with my parents. When Lily comes home from school, she watches TV with her sister, helps feed and change her. Nobody can reach Daisy like she can. Seems to laugh at her funny faces, seems to watch her color and finger paint. Everything is “seems to” because who can be sure? Both girls have my brown-speckled blue eyes but few would see a resemblance beyond that. Daisy’s head is abnormally large as if somebody had stuffed a globe inside, warping her brow, her nose, the space between her eyes. And like a globe, the inside of Daisy’s head is largely empty, occupied by only a small cephalic ocean.

On the girls’ fifth birthday, Daisy is brought to the emergency room in a Koala onesie after seizing during cupcake time. Born with only a brain stem and a hint of the cerebellum. Never to be voted the nicest, the most stylish, the leader of the pack in a yearbook. Never to go to school or fulfill a dream. The doctors say probably a lot. She probably hears but we don’t know if she can understand. Her eyes are fine, but there’s nothing to process images with.


I know she can recognize me, I tell them again.


In the waiting room, Lily eats Funions from the vending machines and builds a Lego pioneer wagon on the ground. Her grandparents buy her an ice cream from the cafeteria and a bear from the gift shop. She asks me if her sister is going to die.

Whenever I bring home Daisy from the hospital, which seems like every week for the first couple of years, I carry her everywhere. Already, we have beaten the odds. There is a fold-up playpen in the bathroom, in the kitchen, and in the basement next to the washing machine. Lily, though the same age as Daisy, has had to grow up fast. She asks me to look at what she did at school—a macaroni necklace, the Valentine’s Day cards she got in her construction-paper mailbox—but I only know about these things because I see them days during a rare moment of rest. My father lumbers to the dining table every morning and gives Lily the comics from the paper while he works on the Jumble. My mother wishes I would let them watch Daisy more, so I could take Lily out. “The poor girl doesn’t know what to do with herself,” my mother says.


“When Daisy gets better,” I say. “When I get a full-time teaching job.”


My mother waddles around the table, trying not to put pressure on her gout, and whispers into my ear: “Andrea, she’s not going to get better. We love her, but you can’t keep living like this. We can find someone to help.”


“She needs me. Besides, where are we going to find the money?” I point to the stack of unopened bills on the table. 2nd notice. 3rd notice. Envelopes from collection agencies. I am afraid if I leave Daisy for too long, what little spark resides in her will disappear entirely.


“She doesn’t even know who you are.” My mother holds her hand to her mouth after the words leave, wishing she could take them back. She picks up her bowl still half full of oatmeal and begins washing dishes.

At school, I set up a playpen in the corner of my first class. Daisy regularly has check-ups at the university children’s medical center, so it saves me the trip back home. I have managed to secure three sections of composition this semester as an adjunct, which means I might be able to pay the minimum for some of the medical bills. I have gotten used to the looks—the “I’m so sorry” look, the “you poor woman” look. One girl says she’s adorable. Another girl asks how old she is. Only one boy directly asks “What’s wrong with her head? Why’s it all big like that?” The girl next to him shoots daggers into his eyes. “What?” he says. “That’s some straight alien shit.” But I’m not angry. And I know it’s true. I haven’t talked about my daughter to anyone outside the family before. And, frankly, I’m sick of hiding. “She was born with a rare condition,” I begin. I want them to understand. Here, unlike the grocery store or the park, they have to stop and listen. And after the first class, I pack up my books and collapse the playpen. I drape a blanket over the stroller without even thinking about why, and rush to the next class to introduce my daughter all over again.

At Lily’s fourth-grade parent/teacher night, Daisy sits on my lap while Mrs. Lee, floating around the room in a floral muumuu, talks about student projects. Daisy is wearing jeans and a My Little Pony sweat shirt a size too small. Her eyes scans the room as if she is seeing for the first time. The other parents smile awkwardly. Daisy’s drool has created a large, dark circle on a shoulder of one of my three decent work blouses.


“Every student completed a portrait of a family member. They had to capture what they believed to be the essence of that person—their job, their personality, their hobbies, their favorite food,” explains Mrs. Lee.


The parents circle the room, browsing the brightly colored bulletin boards for the work of their children. I put Daisy in her wheelchair. Fireman, doctor, someone who likes spaghetti and meatballs, construction worker, and at the far end of the room is a portrait of a girl with a large head wearing a pink dress under a rainbow. The head takes up most of the poster board and inside it, Lily has drawn a stick figure girl in a boat on blue waves. No sail. No oars. Simply adrift.


“She said her sister is lost inside of herself,” says Mrs. Lee, standing behind me. “She’s a special girl, Lily. To think like that. She loves her sister very much.”


“She does,” I say. But I know it’s been hard, that at times Lily wants to hate her sister, the musty fold-out bed she shares with me, the way I rummage through Goodwill bins before the school year and during Christmas.


“And this must be Daisy. I was hoping I would get to meet you.” Mrs. Lee opens her mouth and pauses before leading me to the hall. “A close friend of mine had a daughter years ago. Cancer. She was eight.”


“I’m sorry,” I say.


“The reason I’m telling you this is because I saw what an illness can do to a family. I can see it some days with Lily. Like she’s still processing something that happened. My friend went to a support group down the street at the Lutheran church. She said it helped.” Mrs. Lee hands me a pamphlet for the group, squeezes my hands, and returns to the classroom.


I imagine myself in a dimly lit church activity room, sitting in a circle and saying my name. Hi Andrea, they would say in unison. A few years ago, I would have dismissed the idea without a thought. I examine the pamphlet with a photo of unreasonably happy people holding hands in a circle before putting it in my purse.

“Wish she wouldn’t parade that girl around town. I don’t know how much longer we can survive this. What if something happens to us?” Mom loves to talk dad’s ear off in the kitchen after she thinks everyone has gone to sleep. I tiptoe to the edge of the kitchen door.


“Don’t talk about her like that,” he says.


“You don’t think I care? It’s just that maybe we all would have been better off if she hadn’t beat the odds.”


“But she did.”


I spend most of my day thinking about that girl—how to keep her comfortable and safe and happy. I dream about a life she’ll never live: Daisy is flying a kite. We are fighting and Daisy storms out the door because she can’t go to a concert. She’s kissing a boy I don’t approve of. In this alternate reality, she is lithe and athletic with a competitive streak in contrast to Lily’s bookishness. She wears her hair in a pony tail tied with brightly colored scrunchies. And, oh, how she loves to laugh.


I wake up smiling when I have these dreams, and the weight in my chest suddenly evaporates. I want to believe for a split second that all of it was true. I look at Daisy, hooked up to a monitors and an IV, and think, I want to hear you laugh.

One summer weekend, I drop off Lily to a birthday party. These are the few glimpses I get of the kind of family life I once aspired to. The parents who throw parties live in tony neighborhoods with manicured gardens and joggers in spandex running beside yappy dogs. Before the door opens, I try to straighten my hair, yank out the wrinkles on my shirt with my hands. Usually the invitations include Daisy as a courtesy, but I’ve never taken up the offer. But on this day it is raining hard, so I walk Lily to the door with our lopsided umbrella. “Welcome, welcome.” The parents shuttle Lily into the family room where other kids are playing video games. They see Daisy in the car and insist we come inside.


Around the island in the kitchen, the parents mingle—talking vacations, people I do not know, summer camps that Lily would love. We are sitting down on the periphery and after everyone has introduced themselves, it seems like we are forgotten. Every so often, the hosts checks on us, says they are so glad we could be here. Right. I force a smile, take a sip of a mimosa. When one of the children runs into the kitchen and sees Daisy, she gasps. Her parents mouth a feeble sorry. And this is my cue. I thank the parents for having us, tell them I’ll pick up Lily later in the afternoon, and promptly leave.

Waiting in the dark hall of the Lutheran church, I watch the parents, the single fathers and mothers, file into the only lit room, as anxiety fills my veins. I am alone for the first time in recent memory. They all know each other: How are things? I’m so sorry, I just heard. Let me know if there’s anything we can do. I practice my introduction: My name is Andrea. My ten-year-old daughter Daisy was born without most of her brain. I don’t know if I’m just nervous about being new or speaking, or if it’s having to confront the realities of others on top of my own. Support groups are supposed to help, right?


“The free doughnuts help,” a young Indian woman approaching the room says. “First time?”


“That obvious?” I answer.


“It’s my third month. But I remember lurking in the hall. Marched right back to my car the first time.”


“And you’ve been coming back, so—”


“A lot of us have been going for years. Talking helps. But that doesn’t mean I want to listen to all of it. I come for the doughnuts and just being next to people who understand. I’m Diya, by the way. Shall we?”


I nibble on a cruller the whole hour and choose not to speak. There’s a man who lost his son to leukemia ten years ago, a couple with a daughter with cerebral palsy, and Diya, who talks about her son with autism and how something so seemingly small like asking for orange juice brought her to tears. “It’s the little things,” she says. “When you have children like ours.” Everybody nods. After the session, Diya invites me and the girls to join her and her son at the zoo the next weekend. She is smoking, and I ask for one more out of camaraderie than anything else. “I have these free admission vouchers,” she says. “I know we just met, but it might be nice to see someone from here outside of that Sunday school room.” After I had the girls, most of my friends slowly disappeared (maybe we did). We get birthday cards, a Facebook like. But not much else.


“Fuck ’em,” says Diya, referring to anybody who gawks at us walking down the zoo’s paths. Lily leads the way, skipping far ahead while Diya occasionally has to pull her son, Alok, back to the fold. Daisy, in a lion-shaped stroller, seems to be quietly enjoying the Serengeti. At the giraffe exhibit, Diya hands me a feeding ticket for small bucket of leaves. I struggle to carry Daisy out of the stroller and with Diya and Lily’s help, hold her up against the railing, so I can guide Daisy’s hands to the sky.


“We’re going to feed the giraffes, sweetie,” I say. I place a few leaves in Daisy’s palms and curl my hand over hers. “Look, here it comes!” I tilt Daisy’s head up. The giraffe leans in close, examining us. And for a moment it seems like the giraffe is studying Daisy, like it can sense something just out of human perception. Daisy makes a gurgling sound. And with his long, purple tongue, the giraffe slurps the leaves from our hands. Diya snaps a photo. A few feet away, Alok seems to be having a good time. One leaf, two leaf. The baby giraffe leans in and lingers just long enough for his hands to stroke its face. No leaf. And Alok begins screaming and kicks his bucket across the wooden walkway. Diya pulls away Alok from the exhibit, as people begin to stare and whisper to one another. Lily is still feeding, and I call out to her to catch up.


“I still have leaves,” she says.


“Now,” I say. I see her mumble something before leaving her bucket on the ground.


At the cafeteria, I thank Diya for the day. “We haven’t been able to treat ourselves to something like this in a long time,” I say.


“Same,” Diya says. “But you need to try. Makes you feel normal. Getting you those chicken wings for example. It’s always Alok, Alok, Alok. And that’s fine. But you forget to be decent to everybody else including yourself. Think that’s why my husband left.”


I don’t know what to say to that. Just like most people don’t know how to respond to Daisy.


“You’re lucky you have your parents,” Diya says.


“Sometimes. I don’t think my mother really sees Daisy like I do.”


“Like a person.”


“I don’t want to be that harsh. But, yeah.”


Diya pulls out her phone and shows me the photo of Daisy and the giraffe. It looks like Daisy is laughing, staring right back at the animal as if they are in on a big secret. If I told anybody about this day, about what I thought the picture captured, they wouldn’t believe me. Doctors would say possibly, but really would think I’m seeing things in my daughter that aren’t there. But, for me, the photo is proof that there is a girl on a boat on a tiny ocean inside of her, trying to make it to the shore.

Before I know it, I become one of those people in group who have been there for years. I measure the times I can’t bring myself to talk in the pastries I stuff in my mouth. It’s half-price admission today at one of those hands-on science museums, and we’ve made plans with Diya and Alok. I’m getting Daisy dressed, pulling a sweater over her head, when I feel her tremble. Her seizures usually don’t last longer than a few moments, but this time the shaking continues. I hold her tight as if she would crumble apart if I let go and call out to my father to get the car. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. I’m here. I’m here.


At the hospital, Daisy is sleeping, and I realize that I had dozed off, too, when a nurse walks in. My parents are in the waiting area, but I told Diya to go on to the museum and to take Lily. Outside our room, I see a bald little girl walking around with her family, holding a stuffed bunny rabbit almost as big as her. She waves. I wave back. I’ve become accustomed to the children’s ward here—the hope, the lack of it, the sounds of parents sobbing behind curtains, the fantasy castle wallpaper that is supposed to transport the patients to a happier place. But I need to hope for Daisy. I need to want something for her apart from my need for her to be alive. I flip through the television—another school shooting, a young protestor talking about their student loans and food stamps, a strike at one of the colleges I teach at. Fair wages. Child care. I think about the hospital bill when the nurse comes in and checks the IV.


Support Group Meetings: Bear Claw, Eclair, Sugar Glazed, Cherry Fruit Filling.


Daisy is still in and out of the hospital a month after her last bad seizure, and my parents have taken out a second mortgage to keep us above water. “Just throw our ashes over the Golden Gate Bridge or something,” my dad says. My mom says little, and I’ve learned to be okay with her resentment—I understand it, even. I have only received one class this semester, and have started to apply for other jobs—Target, Starbucks, anything I’m vaguely qualified for on Craigslist. The strike continues at school. Part of me wishes I could march with them, but I can’t afford to lose money. They carry signs that say “Education Not Administration” and “Support Your Teachers.” When I cross the picket line, my coworkers, many who probably know me as the woman with that kid, do not shame me.


When Diya finds out that I need to dress up as a lusty Statue of Liberty for a mattress store as part of their Memorial Day sale, she suggests helping me start a GoFundMe campaign. She comes over one day with a video camera, and helps me and Daisy dress up.


“You want to look good, but, you know, not too good,” Diya says.


“What are we supposed to say?”


“Just talk about Daisy’s condition. And I’ll splice that with some music and pictures of her growing up. Talk about the struggles you have as a mom, the medical bills donations will help with.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “It seems weird asking strangers for money.”


“Lots of people are doing this. If people want to help, let them.”


We shoot the video in our backyard with the sun behind us for angelic effect. Daisy is sitting beside me in her wheelchair. When Diya says action, I begin reciting the lines we rehearsed, but I feel like a carbon copy of Suzanne Sommers in those Save the Children commercials. For only five dollars you can really make a difference. We start over. “Let me tell you about a girl in a boat in the middle of an ocean. She has no oars, no sail, and the sea is calm. On a good day, she can see land, and there’s a glimmer of hope that she’ll make it, although she never will. Let me tell you about my daughter who was born without most of her brain.” I talk for longer than I imagined, as if I were teaching a class on Daisy. This is who she is. This is what she has. This is our life together. This is what the doctors say. And this is what I know to be true.


Within a matter of minutes, a Facebook friend of Diya’s donates twenty-five dollars.


“The first of many,” Diya says.


By the end of the month we have thousands of followers on social media. I’ve connected with other parents dealing with hydranencephaly, a young woman taking care of her older brother with MS, a young man with Down syndrome who lives with his best friend. For them, Daisy is more than just a good cause but a symbol of hope.

When Lily goes off to Oberlin on a full ride, it’s like part of the shore inside of Daisy has broken off. She is less responsive when I talk, smiles less, and is throwing up her food more than usual.


“Stay out of trouble,” Lily tells her sister. “I’ll be back before you know it.”


“You’ve earned this,” I tell Lily. “Look ahead. We’ll be fine here.”


“If anything happens,” she says.


“Go,” I say, starting to cry. She grew up and I missed it.

I hire a part-time home aid with Lily gone, and decide to stay home more, grading tests online. Mom and Dad, of course, are getting older, and I’ve been begging my mother to let me take her to the doctor to check out her fainting spells. She says it’s nothing, but I’m certain she’s lying. My dad thinks so, too.


“I’m old,” she says. “I’m supposed to be cranky and falling apart.”


“Doesn’t mean we can’t put a band-aid on whatever is wrong.” She shrugs me off whenever I prod her and tells me to mind my own business, which honestly pisses me off. And if it were just her being stubborn, maybe I would let it go. But she’s been different with Daisy, too. She rolls her granddaughter next to her while she watches The Bold and the Beautiful. Most of the time, they just sit there. But occasionally, my mother will turn to Daisy and talk to her.


“That one is having two affairs,” she says. “Her husband is a bore, so who can blame her?”

I don’t go to support group nearly as much as I used to. Tonight, Diya isn’t there, and there’s no one else I recognize, but I talk anyway. It’s probably one of only a handful of times I’ve opened my mouth in group: “Daisy has helped a lot of people see their children,” I begin. “And I think my mother has finally seen my daughter.” And maybe that’s all any of us can for hope for: to be seen with clarity. That’s all I’ve wanted for her.

It’s nearly midnight when my father and I hear the crash. I can see my mother’s legs on the floor as I approach the kitchen. A shattered glass kettle, her frail body, the coffee mug Lily painted in the first grade.


“Mom,” I yell. “Mom. Wake up!” But she remains still. My father’s hands are shaking on my shoulders. I rush to her, trying to clear away the shards on the ground. I can feel glass digging into my knees, as I lean over her, trying to remember the CPR training I received as a summer lifeguard when I was a teenager. Tilt head to clear airway, breathe, compress. I turn to look at my father. I hear my mom’s ribs crack beneath my hands.


“I’m here,” he says.


“Call 911,” I say. “Now. Dad, wake up! Mom needs help.”


“Nine-one-one,” he repeats. “Right.” He shuffles into the living room and returns with my phone, offering it to me. “I don’t know how,” he says.


At the hospital, the doctors say it was an aneurysm. Quick, unexpected, supposedly painless. The kind of death Daisy probably won’t have. We’ll have a small memorial over the summer when Lily returns, although I haven’t told her the news yet. This morning, I picked up her urn. Mom sits on the night table next to my father, and for every night after that night at the hospital, Daisy and I have slept at his side.


“She loved her, you know,” my father said after the doctor gave us the news. “Called her a beautiful child.”


A few days after the memorial, Daisy and Lily are in the living room watching movies like old times—Goonies, Mean Girls, Bring It On. It is the eve of their nineteenth birthday, and Daisy is having one of her better days. To date, the longest someone has lived with her condition is until their early thirties, but that’s a rare case, and I’m not necessarily hoping for that. Lily is dating someone but is being mysterious about the details, although she whispers things about a boy named Dave to her sister. We eat cake in the afternoon, and Diya and Alok join us for a trip to the planetarium’s family day. We’re all reclined back, looking at an ancient night sky. Our guide zooms in on a star that goes nova, washing the room in the purples and reds of a nebula. He talks about how this expanse of gas and dust and rock is the birthplace of planets, of new stars, and of us, how the iron in our bodies are remnants of stars. It’s strange how something so bright could flicker out and yet have meaning billions of years later, creating life on a planet so drastically different from another. I turn to Daisy and point her hands to the Little Dipper. “That’s you, Daisy,” I say. “That’s me.”