The REAL issue arrived with a kind note from the magazine’s outgoing editor, Christine Butterworth-McDermott, saying that my story was one of her favorites from her seven-year editorial tenure.
Needless to say, this made my post-Thanksgiving weekend.
“You Okay?” is not only my most realistic published story, but also the most nakedly autobiographical. Our first son had a latching problem. Nothing messes with the one’s emotions more than the birth of a child. Though we had worked with a lactation consultant at the hospital where Stephen was born, we were not able to get him to nurse naturally. Eventually we rented a breast pump. I’d feed Stephen from a bottle while Alison, my wife, sat beside me, pumping. We were working together to care for our son, just not in the way we had imagined.
On the first night home from the hospital, I raised Stephen to my shoulder and burped him. I was new to fatherhood and, fearing that I might harm him with too hard a pat, my attempts to burp him were woefully pathetic. Somehow though, they worked. His burps were loud, tremendous eruptions that filled the air with the scent of the milk he had drunk.
For a baby, Stephen’s neck muscles were remarkably well-developed. After burping, he lifted his head off my shoulder. I still remember how warm he felt. He brushed his cheek against the side of my neck, his skin soft and smooth and feeling of life.
Then, as I wrote in my story:
All of a sudden, a surge like electricity burst through me. Something warm and wet had clamped onto my earlobe, so startling me that it took a moment to figure its source. Stephen had raised his head off my shoulder and latched himself to my ear, plying my earlobe between his tongue and the soft roof of his mouth… Stephen’s lips remained on my ear. Even when I turned to face [Alison], he hung on. I tried to explain, but what Stephen was doing tickled, causing me to laugh. It really was the nicest sensation, those lips at work on my earlobe.
As nice as he felt, I felt immediate guilt, for I imagined the sensation of Stephen’s lips was what Alison desperately wanted to feel for herself.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t figure any real way of making this story work outside traditional realism—mind you, I’ve written plenty of Absurd baby stories!—so I was tremendously thrilled last week to learn that Ms. Butterworth-McDermott had also nominated the story for a Pushcart Prize.
Thank you, Christine!
In Other News: I’ve got a new piece up at The Nervous Breakdown, called “Rockstars: Lenny Dykstra and Dan Herman.” Though it’s only a few thousand words long, it took me several drafts and several weeks to write, but I think it kinda works. Check it out and tell me what you think!
Dykstra, the former New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies star, has been a bit of an obsession for me. I’ve written about him before on this blog, and will likely do so again soon. His over-the-top personality fascinates me. Not that I’d ever want to personally meet the guy, for he really does seem to ooze bile into every life he touches, but he’s a good gawk if you’re careful to maintain a safe distance.
What else? We spent most of Friday and Saturday in Roanoke doing fun stuff, including attending the Friday’s “A Dickens of a Christmas” festival at Market Square, a Saturday screening of “Der Golem” (1920) at the Taubman Museum of Art (with live musical accompaniment that our children loved!) and Katherine Devine’s Grandin Village studio party.
More than anything though, I’ve had a lot of good feedback recently on my work, which makes me hopeful that more good things might soon be heading this way soon.